Now and After : Chapter 10 : Reformer and Politician
(1870 - 1936) ~ Globe-Trotting Anarchist, Journalist, and Exposer of Bolshevik Tyranny : He was a well-known anarchist leader in the United States and life-long friend of Emma Goldman, a young Russian immigrant whom he met on her first day in New York City. The two became lovers and moved in together, remaining close friends for the rest of Berkman's life. (From : Anarchy Archives.)
• "It must always be remembered - and remembered well - that revolution does not mean destruction only. It means destruction plus construction, with the greatest emphasis on the plus." (From : "The Russian Tragedy," by Alexander Berkman, The R....)
• "But the 'triumph' of the Bolsheviki over Kronstadt held within itself the defeat of Bolshevism. It exposes the true character of the Communist dictatorship. The Communists proved themselves willing to sacrifice Communism, to make almost any compromise with international capitalism, yet refused the just demands of their own people -- demands that voiced the October slogans of the Bolsheviki themselves: Soviets elected by direct and secret ballot, according to the Constitution of the R.S.F.S.R.; and freedom of speech and press for the revolutionary parties." (From : "The Kronstadt Rebellion," by Alexander Berkman, 1....)
• "The present situation in Russia [in 1921] is most anomalous. Economically it is a combination of State and private capitalism. Politically it remains the 'dictatorship of the proletariat' or, more correctly, the dictatorship of the inner circle of the Communist Party." (From : "The Russian Tragedy," by Alexander Berkman, The R....)
Who is the reformer, and what does he propose?
The reformer wants to 'reform and improve.' He is not sure what it is that he really wants to change: sometimes he says that 'people are bad,' and it is them that he wants to 'reform', at other times he means to 'improve' conditions. he does not believe in abolishing an evil altogether. Doing away with something that is rotten is 'too radical' for him. 'For Heaven's sake,' he cautions you, 'don't be too hasty.' He wants to change things gradually, little by little. Take war, for example. War is bad, of course, the reformer admits; it is wholesale murder, a blot upon our civilization. But - abolish it? Oh, no! He wants to 'reform' it. He wants to 'limit armaments,' for instance. With less armaments, he says, we'll kill fewer people. He wants to 'humanize' war, to make slaughter more decent, so to speak.
If you should carry out his ideas in your personal life, you would not have a rotten tooth that aches pulled out all at once. You would have it pulled out a little to-day, some more next week for several months or years, and by then you would be ready to pull it out altogether, so it should not hurt so much. That is the logic of the reformer. Don't be 'too hasty,' don's pull a bad tooth out all at once.
The reformer thinks he can make people better by law. 'Pass a new raw,' he says whenever anything goes wrong; 'compel men to be good.'
He forgets that for hundreds, even for thousands, of years laws have been made to force people to 'be good,' yet human nature remains about what it always was. We have so many laws that even the proverbial Philadelphia lawyer is lost in their maze. The ordinary person can't tell any more what is right or wrong according to statute, what is just, what true or false. A special class of persons - judges - decide what is honest or dishonest, when it is permitted to steal and in what manner, when fraud is legal and when it is not, when murder is right and when it is a crime, which uniform entitles you to kill and which does not. It takes many laws to determine all this, and for centuries legislators have been busy making laws (at a good salary), and yet to-day we still need more laws, for all the other laws have failed to make you 'good.'
Still the lawmaker continues to compel people to be good. If the existing laws have not made you better, he says, then we need more laws and stricter ones. Stiffer sentences will diminish and prevent crime, he claims, while he appeals in behalf of his 'reform' to the very men who have stolen the earth from the people.
If some one has killed another in a business quarrel, for money or other advantage, the reformer will not admit that money and money getting rouse the worst passions and drive men to crime and murder. He will argue that the willful taking of human life deserves capital punishment, and he will straight way help the government send armed men to some foreign country to do wholesale killing there.
The reformer cannot think straight. He does not understand that if men act badly it is because they think it is to their advantage to do so. The reformer says that a new law will change all that. He is a born prohibitionist: he wants to prohibit men from being bad. If a man lost his job, for instance, feels blue about it, and gets drunk to forget his troubles, the reformer wouldn't think of helping the man to find work. No; it is drinking that must be prohibited, he insists. He thinks he has reformed you by driving you out of the saloon into the cellar where you stealthily slush on vile moonshine instead of openly taking a drink. In the same way he wants to reform you in what you eat and do, in what you think and feel.
He refuses to see that his 'reforms' create worse evils than those they are supposed to suppress; that they cause more deceit, corruption, and vise. He puts one set of men to spy upon another, and he thinks he has 'raised the standard of morality'; he pretends to have made you 'better' by compelling you to be a hypocrite.
I don't mean to detain you long with the reformer. We are going to meet him again as the politician. Without wishing to be rough on him, I can say frankly that when the reformer is honest he is a fool; when he is a politician he is a knave. In either case, as we shall presently see, he cannot solve our problem of how to make the world a better place to live in.
The politician is first cousin to the reformer. 'Pass a new law,' says the reformer, 'and compel men to be good. ''Let me pass the law,' says the politician, 'and things will be better.'
You can tell the politician by his talk. In most cases he is a grafter who wants to climb on your shoulders to power. Once there, he forgets his solemn promises and thinks only of his own ambitions and interests.
When the politician is honest he misleads you no less than the grafter. Perhaps worse, because you put confidence in him and are the more disappointed when he fails to do you any good.
The reformer and the politician are both on the wrong track. To try to change men by law is just like trying to change your face by getting a new mirror. For men make laws, not laws men. The law merely reflects men as they are, as the mirror reflects your features.
'But the law keeps people from becoming criminals,' reformer and politician assert.
If that is true, if the law really prevents crime then the more laws the better. By the time we have passed enough laws there will be no more crime. Well, why do you smile? Because you know that it is nonsense, You know that the best the law can do is to punish crime; it cannot prevent it.
Should the time ever come when the law could read a man's mind and detect there his intention to commit a crime, then it might prevent it. But in that case the law would have no policemen to do the preventing, because they'd be in prison themselves. And if the administration of law would be honest and impartial, there would be neither judges not lawmakers, because they would be keeping the police company.
But seriously speaking, as things stand, how can the law prevent crime? It can do so only when the intention to commit a crime has been announced or has somehow become known. But such cases are very rare. One does not advertise his criminal plans. The claim then that the law prevents crime is entirely baseless.
'But the fear of punishment,' you object, 'does it not prevent crime?'
If that were the case crime would have stopped long ago, for surely the law has done enough punishing; The whole experience of mankind disproves the idea that punishment prevents crime. On the contrary, it has been found that even the most severe punishments do not frighten people away from crime.
England, as well as other countries, used to punish not only murder but scores of lesser crimes with death. Yet it did not deter others from committing the same crimes. People were then executed publicly, by hanging, by garroting, by the guillotine, in order to inspire greater fear. Yet even the most fearful punishment failed to prevent or diminish crime. It was found that public executions had a brutalizing effect upon the people, and there are cases on record where persons who witnessed an execution immediately committed the very crime the terrible punishment of which they had just witnessed. That is why public execution was abolished: it did more harm than good. Statistics show that there has been no increase of crime in countries that have entirely done away with capital punishment.
Of course, there may be some cases in which the fear of punishment prevents a crime; but on the whole its only effect is to make the criminal more circumspect, so that his detection is more difficult.
There are, generally speaking, two types of crime: some committed in the heat of anger and passion, and in such cases one does not stop to consider the consequences, and so the fear of punishment does not enter as a factor. The other class of crime is committed with cold deliberation, mostly professionally, and in such cases fear of punishment only serves to make the criminal more careful to leave no traces. It is a well-known trait of the professional criminal that he thinks himself sufficiently clever to avoid detection, no matter how often he happens to be caught. He will always blame some particular circumstance, some accidental cause, or just 'bad luck' for having been arrested. 'Next time I'll be more careful,' he says; or, 'I won't trust my pal any more.' But almost never will you find in him the faintest thought of giving up crime on account of the punishment which may be meted out to him. I have known thousands of criminals, yet hardly any of them ever took possible punishment into consideration.
It is just because fear of punishment has no deterrent effect that crime continues in spite of all laws and courts, prisons and executions.
But let us suppose that punishment does have a deterring effect. Must there not be some powerful reasons that cause people to commit crime, notwithstanding all the dire punishment inflicted?
What are those reasons?
Every prison warden will tell you that whenever there is much unemployment, hard times, the prisons get filled. This fact is also born out by investigation into the causes of crime. The greatest percentage of it is due directly to conditions, to industrial and economic reasons. That is why the vast majority of the prison population come from the poor classes. It has been established that poverty and unemployment, with their attendant misery and despair, are the chief sources of crime. Is there any law to prevent poverty and unemployment?
Is there any law to abolish these main causes of crime? Are not all the laws designed to keep up the conditions which produce poverty and misery, and thus manufacture crime all the time?
Suppose a pipe burst in your house. You put a bucket under the break to catch the escaping water, You can keep on putting buckets there, but as long as you do not mend the broken pipe, the leakage will continue, no matter how much you may swear about it.
Our filled prisons are the buckets. Pass as many laws as you want, punish the criminals as you may, the leakage will continue until you repair the broken social pipe.
Does the reformer or politician really want to mend that pipe?
I have said that most crime is of an economic nature. That is, it has to do with money, with possession, with the desire to get something with the least effort, to secure a living or wealth by hook or crook.
But that is just the ambition of our whole life, of our entire civilization. As long as our existence is based on a spirit of this sort, will it be possible to eradicate crime? As long as society is built on the principle of grabbing all you can, we must continue to live that way. Some will try to do it 'within the law'; others, more courageous, reckless, or desperate, will do it outside the law. But the one and the other will really be doing the same thing, and it's the thing that is the crime, not the manner in which it is done.
Those who can do it within the law call the others criminals. It's for the 'illegal' criminals - and for those who might become such - that most of the laws are made.
The 'illegal' criminals are often caught. Their conviction and punishment depend mainly on how successful they have been in their criminal career. The more successful, the less chance of their conviction, the lighter their punishment. It is not the crime they committed which will ultimately decide their fate, but their ability to employ expensive lawyers, their political and social connections, their money and influence. It will generally be the poor and friendless fellow who will be made to feel the full weight of the law; he'll get speedy 'justice' and the heaviest penalty. He is not able to take advantage of the various delays which the law affords to his richer fellow criminal, for appeals to higher courts are expensive luxuries which the moneyless criminal cannot indulge in. That is why you almost never see a rich man behind prison bars; such are occasionally 'found guilty', but mighty seldom punished. Nor will you find many professional criminals in prison. These know 'the ropes'; they have friends and connections; usually they also have 'fall money', for just such occasions, with which to 'oil' their way out of the legal meshes. Those you find in our prisons and penitentiaries are the poorest of society, accidental criminals, mostly workingman and farm boys whom poverty and misfortune, striking and picketing, unemployment and general helplessness have brought behind the bars.
Are these at least reformed by the law and the penalties they undergo? Hardly. They come out of prison weakened in body and mind, hardened by the mistreatment and cruelty they suffered from or witnessed there, embittered by their 'fate. They have to go back to the same conditions which had made them law-breakers in the first place, but now they are labeled 'criminals', are looked down upon, scorned even by former friends, and persecuted and hounded by the police as men 'with a criminal record'. It is not long before most of them are again behind the bars.
So our social merry-go-round revolves. And all the time the conditions that had made those unfortunates into criminals continue manufacturing new crops of them, and 'law and order' goes on as before, and the reformer and the politician keep busy making more laws.
It is a profitable business, this law-making. Have you ever stopped to consider whether our courts, police, and the whole machinery of so called justice really want to abolish crime? Is it to the interest of the policeman, the detective, the sheriff, the judge, the lawyer, the prison contractors, wardens, deputies, keepers, and the thousands of others who live by the 'administration of justice' to do away with crime? Supposing there were no criminals, could those 'administrators' hold their jobs? Could you be taxed for their support? Would they not have to do some honest work?
Think it over and see if crime is not a more lucrative source of income to the 'dispensers of justice' than to the criminals themselves. Can you reasonably believe that they really want to abolish crime?
Their 'business' is to apprehend and punish the criminal; but it is not to their interest to do away with crime, for that's their bread and butter. That is the reason why they will not look into the causes of crime. They are quite satisfied with things as they are. They are the staunchest defenders of the existing system, of 'justice' and punishment, the champions of 'law and order'. They catch and punish 'criminals', but they leave crime and its causes severely alone.
'But what is the law for thee?' you demand.
The law is to keep up existing conditions, to preserve 'law and order.' More laws are constantly made, all for the same purpose of defending and sustaining the present order of things. 'To reform men,' as the reformer says; 'to improve conditions,' as the politician assures you.
But the new laws leave men as they are, and conditions remain, on the whole, the same. Since capitalism and wage slavery began, millions of laws have been passed, but capitalism and wage slavery still remain. The truth is, all the laws serve only to make capitalism stronger and perpetuate the workers' subjection. It is the business of the politician, the 'science of politics', to make you believe that the law protects you and your interests, while it merely serves to keep up the system which robs, dupes, and enslaves you in body and mind. All the institutions of society have this one object in view: to instill in you respect for law and government, to awe you with its authority and sanctity, and thus support the social framework which rests upon your ignorance and your obedience. The whole secret of the thing is that the masters want to keep their stolen possessions. Law and government are the means by which they do it.
There is no great mystery about this matter of government and laws. Nor is there anything sacred or holy about them. Laws are made and unmade; old laws are abolished, and new laws are passed. It is all the work of men, human, and therefore fallible and temporary. There is nothing eternal or unchangeable about them. But whatever laws you make and however you change them, they always serve one purpose: to compel people to do certain things, to restrain them from or punish them for doing other things. That is to say, the only purpose of laws and government is to rule the people, to keep them from doing what they want and prescribe to them what certain other people want them to do.
But why must people be kept from doing what they want? And what is it that they want to do?
If you look into this you will find that people want to live, to satisfy their needs, to enjoy life. And in this all people are alike, as I have already pointed out before. But if people are to be prevented from living and enjoying their lives, then there must be some among us who have an interest in doing that.
So it is in fact: there are indeed people who don't want us to live and enjoy life, because they have taken the joy out of our lives, and they don't want to give it back to us. Capitalism has done it, and government which serves capitalism. To let the people enjoy life would mean to stop robbing and oppressing them. That is why capitalism needs government, that's why we are taught to respect the 'sanctity of the law'. We have been made to believe that breaking the law is criminal, though law-breaking and crime are often entirely different things. We have been made to believe that any act against the law is bad for society, though it may be bad only for the masters and exploiters. We have been made to believe that everything which threatens the possessions of the rich is 'evil' and 'wrong', and that everything which weakens our chains and destroys our slavery is 'criminal'.
In short, there has been developed in the course of time a kind of 'morality' that is useful for the rulers and masters only - a class morality; really a slave morality, because it helps to keep us in slavery. And whoever goes against this slave morality is called 'bad, ''immoral,' a criminal, an anarchist.
If I should rob you of all you have and then persuade you that what I did is good for you and that you should guard my booty against. others, it would be a very clever trick on my part, wouldn't it? It would secure me in my stolen possessions. Suppose further that I should also manage to convince you that we must make a rule that no one may touch my stolen wealth and that I may continue to accumulate more in the same manner, and that the arrangement is just and to your own best interests. If such a crazy scheme should be actually carried out, then we'd have the 'law and order' of government and capitalism which we have to-day.
It is clear, of course, that laws would have no force if the people did not believe in them and did not obey them. So the first thing to do is to make them believe that laws are 'necessary and that they are good for them. And it is still better if you can lead them to think that it is they themselves who make the laws. Then they will be willing and anxious to obey them. That's what is called democracy: to get the people to believe that they are their own rulers and that they themselves pass the laws of their country. That's the great advantage that a democracy or a republic has over a monarchy. In olden times the business of ruling and robbing the people was much harder and more dangerous. The king or feudal lord had to compel people by force to serve him. He would hire armed bands to make his subjects submit and pay tribute to him. But that was expensive and troublesome. A better way was found by 'educating' the populace to believe that they 'owe' the king loyalty and faithful service. Governing then became much easier, but still the people knew that the king was their lord and commander. A republic, however, is much safer and more comfortable for the rulers, for there the people imagine that they themselves are the masters. And no matter how exploited and oppressed they are, in a 'democracy' they think themselves free and independent.
That is why the average workingman in the United States, for instance, considers himself a sovereign citizen, though he has no more to say about the running of his country than the starved peasant in Russia had under the Czar. He thinks he is free, while in fact he is only a wage slave. He believes he enjoys 'liberty for the pursuit of happiness', while his days, weeks and years, and his whole life, are mortgaged to the boss in the mine or factory.
The people under a tyranny know they are enslaved and sometimes they revolt. The people of America are in bondage and don't know it. That is why there are no revolutions in America.
Modern capitalism is wise. It knows that it prospers best under 'democratic' institutions, with the people electing their own representatives to the lawmaking bodies, and indirectly casting a vote even for the president. The capitalist masters do not care how or for whom you vote, whether it be the Republican or the Democratic ticket. What difference is it to them? Whoever you elect, he will legislate in favor of 'law and order,' to protect things as they are. The main concern of the powers that be is that the people should continue to believe in and uphold the existing system. That is why they spend millions for the schools, colleges, and universities which 'educate' you to believe in capitalism and government. Politics and politicians, governors and law-makers are only their puppets. They will see to it that no legislation is passed against their interests. Now and then they will make a show of fighting certain laws and favoring others, else the game would lose its interest for you. But whatever laws there be, the masters will take care that they shouldn't hurt their business, and their well-paid lawyers know how to turn every law to the benefit of the Big Interests, as daily experience proves.
A very striking illustration of it is the famous Sherman Anti-Trust Law. Organized labor spent thousands of dollars and years of energy to pass that legislation. It was directed against growing capitalist monopoly, against the powerful combinations of money which ruled legislatures and courts and forded it over the workers with an iron hand. After long and expensive effort the Sherman Law was at last passed, and labor leaders and politicians were jubilant over the 'new epoch' created by that law, as they enthusiastically assured the toilers.
What has that law accomplished? The trusts have not been hurt by it; they have remained safe and sound, in fact, they have grown and multiplied. They dominate the country and treat the workers as abject slaves. They are more powerful and prosperous than ever before.
But one important thing the Sherman Law did accomplish. Passed especially in the 'interests of labor', it has been turned against the workers and their unions. It is now used to break up organizations of labor as being in 'prevention of free competition'. The labor unions are now constantly menaced by that anti-trust law, while the capitalistic trusts go on their way undisturbed.
My friend, do I need to tell you about the bribery and debauchery of politics, about the corruption of the courts, and the vile administration of 'justice'? Do I need to remind you of the big Teapot-Dome and oil lease scandals, and the thousand and one lesser ones of every-day occurence? It would be to insult your intelligence to dwell upon these universally known things, for they are part and parcel of all politics, in every country.
The great evil is not that politicians are corrupt and the administration of law unjust. If that were the only trouble then we might try, like the reformer, to 'purify' politics and to work for a more 'just administration'. But it is not that which is the real trouble. The trouble is not with impure politics, but that the whole game of politics is rotten. The trouble is not with defects in the administration of the law, but that law itself is an instrument to subject and oppress the people.
The whole system of law and government is a machine to keep the workers enslaved and to rob them of their toil. Every social 'reform' whose realization depends on law and government is already thereby doomed to failure.
'But the union! 'exclaims your friend; 'the labor union is the best defense of the worker.'
From : Anarchy Archives
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