Part 2, Chapter 03 : Spectral Silence
Part 2, Chapter 03
Berkman, Alexander (1912) Prison Memoirs of an Anarchist, Mother Earth Press.
THE SILENCE GROWS more oppressive, the solitude unbearable. My natural buoyancy is weighted down by a nameless dread. With dismay I realize the failing elasticity of my step, the gradual loss of mental vivacity. I feel worn in body and soul.
The regular tolling of the gong, calling to toil or meals, accentuates the enervating routine. It sounds ominously amid the stillness, like the portent of some calamity, horrible and sudden. Unshaped fears, the more terrifying because vague, fill my heart. In vain I seek to drown my riotous thoughts by reading and exercise. The walls stand, immovable sentinels, hemming me in on every side, till movement grows into torture. In the constant dusk of the windowless cell the letters dance before my eyes, now forming fantastic figures, now dissolving into corpses and images of death. The morbid pictures fascinate my mind. The hissing gas jet in the corridor irresistibly attracts me. With eyes half shut, I follow the flickering light. Its diffusing rays form a kaleidoscope of variegated pattern, now crystallizing into scenes of my youth, now converging upon the image of my New York life, with grotesque illumination of the tragic moments. Now the flame is swept by a gust of wind. it darts hither and thither, angrily contending with the surrounding darkness. It whizzes and strikes into its adversary, who falters, then advances with giant shadow, menacing the light with frenzied threats on the whitewashed wall. Look! The shadow grows and grows, till it mounts the iron gates that fall heavily behind me, as the officers lead me through the passage. "You're home now," the guard mocks me. I look back. The gray pile looms above me, cold and forbidding, and on its crest stands the black figure leering at me in triumph, The walls frown upon me. They seem human in their cruel immobility. Their huge arms tower into the night, as if to crush me on the instant. I feel so small, unutterably weak and defenseless amid all the loneliness,-the breath of the grave is on my face, it draws closer, it surrounds me, and shuts the last rays from my sight. In horror I pause.... The chain grows taut, the sharp edges cut into my wrist. I lurch forward, and wake on the floor of the cell.
Restless dream and nightmare haunt the long nights. I listen eagerly for the tolling of the gong, bidding darkness depart. But the breaking day brings neither hope nor gladness. Gloomy as yesterday, devoid of interest as the to-morrows at its heels, endlessly dull and leaden: the rumbling carts, with their loads of half-baked bread; the tasteless brown liquid; the passing lines of striped misery; the coarse commands; the heavy tread; and then-the silence of the tomb.
Why continue the unprofitable torture? No advantage could accrue to the Cause from prolonging this agony. All avenues of escape are closed; the institution is impregnable. The good people have generously fortified this modern bastille; the world at large may sleep in peace, undisturbed by the anguish of Calvary. No cry of tormented soul shall pierce these walls of stone, much less the heart of man. Why, then, prolong the agony? None heeds, none cares, unless perhaps my comrades,-and they are far away and helpless.
Helpless, quite helpless. Ah, if our movement were strong, the enemy would not dare commit such outrages, knowing that quick and merciless vengeance would retaliate for injustice. But the enemy realizes our weakness. To our everlasting shame, the crime of Chicago has not yet been avenged. Vae victis! They shall forever be the victims. Only might is respected; it alone can influence tyrants. Had we strength,-but if the judicial murders of 1887 failed to arouse more than passive indignation, can I expect radical developments in consequence of my brutally excessive sentence? It is unreasonable. Five years, indeed, have passed since the Haymarket tragedy. Perhaps the People have since been taught in the bitter school of oppression and defeat. Oh, if labor would realize the significance of my deed, if the worker would understand my aims and motives, he could be roused to strong protest, perhaps to active demand. Ah, yes! But when, when will the dullard realize things? When will he open his eyes? Blind to his own slavery and degradation, can I expect him to perceive the wrong suffered by others? And who is to enlighten him? No one conceives the truth as deeply and clearly as we Anarchists. Even the Socialists dare not advocate the whole, unvarnished truth. They have clothed the Goddess of Liberty with a fig-leaf; religion, the very fountain-head of bigotry and injustice, has officially been declared Privatsache. Henceforth these timid world-liberators must be careful not to tread upon the toes of prejudice and superstition. Soon they will grow to bourgeois respectability, a party of "practical" politics and "sound" morality. What a miserable descent from the peaks of Nihilism that proclaimed defiance of all established institutions, because they were established, hence wrong. Indeed, there is not a single institution in our pseudo-civilization that deserves to exist. But only the Anarchists dare wage war upon all and every form of wrong, and they are few in number, lacking in power. The internal divisions, too, aggravate our weakness; and, now, even Most has turned apostate. The Jewish comrades will be influenced by his attitude. Only the Girl remains. But she is young in the movement, and almost unknown. Undoubtedly she has talent as a speaker, but she is a woman, in rather poor health. in all the movement, I know of no one capable of propaganda by deed, 3y of an avenging act, except the Twin. At least I can expect no other comrade to undertake the dangerous task of a rescue. The Twin is a true revolutionist; somewhat impulsive and irresponsible, perhaps, with slight aristocratic leanings, yet quite reliable in matters of revolutionary import. But he would not harbor the thought. We held such queer notions of prison: the sight of a police uniform, an arrest, suggested visions of a bottomless pit, irrevocable disappearance, as in Russia. How can I broach the subject to the Twin? All mail passes through the hands of the censor; my correspondence, especially-a long-timer and an Anarchist -will be minutely scrutinized. There seems no possibility. I am buried alive in this stone grave. Escape is hopeless. And this agony of living death-I cannot support it....
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