The previously mentioned character of the movement transformed gradually after the Franco-Prussian War and especially after the horrendous fall of the Paris Commune. The triumph of Germany and the Bismarck policies originated a new historic achievement from which it couldn’t rid itself. The emergence of a military-bureaucratic State in the center of Europe equipped with all the tools of power, inevitably had influence in the development of a general reaction of raised heads everywhere. Actually, that was the cause too. The center of the European worker’s movement was thrown from France to Germany, there contributing to the development of the social-democratic movement, which in its development decisively influenced, with a few exceptions, the other countries. Thus on one hand the unfortunate period in which Europe was gradually falling victim to the militarization that was occurring in Germany was born, while on the other hand the worker’s movement, under the growing influence of the German social-democracy, was sinking into a desperate posibilitism.
In the Latin countries where the libertarian wing of the International had the strongest influence in the beginning of the seventh decade (of the XIXth century) there was a savage reaction. In France, where the best and brightest elements of the worker’s movement died in the horrendous fall of the Commune, or where exiled to Nouvelle-Calédonie, if they didn’t manage to escape abroad and carry out the restless life of a refugee, all workers’ organizations were repressed by the government and the revolutionary press was forbidden. This was repeating itself in Spain two years later, after the bloody repression of the Cantonalista movement and the capitulation of the Cartagena Commune. All workers’ movements were suppressed and spreading news of the revolutionary movement in public was impossible for years. In Italy the members of the International were provoked as if they were savage beasts, and public propaganda was made so difficult as to force them to resort to secret organizations, to which their comrades from abroad were more accustomed due to their old traditions with the secret societies of the Carbonari and the Mazzinians.
As a result of the atrocious persecutions that the anarchist movement endured, for several years, it disappeared from the public in Latin countries, as it was forced to create a refuge in secret societies. As the period of reaction lasted longer than what the majority believed it would, the movement slowly gained a new psychology that was fundamentally different from its previous one. Secret movements are certainly capable of developing, in their limited circle, a superior level of willingness to sacrifice and physical suffering in their individuals for the good of the revolution, but they lack the wide contact with the popular masses, the only thing they can achieve is improving their efficiency and to conserve them fresh and excited for long periods of time. That’s why the members of that sort of movements lose, without realizing, the exact notion of the real events of life and their desire converts into the creator of their thoughts. They slowly lose the sense of constructive activity and their evolutionary thought takes a purely negative direction. Summarizing, they unconsciously lose the conception of popular movement. That evolutionary process occurs surprisingly fast, in few years it gives a very different character to the movement, when the exterior circumstances, blind persecutions by the government, favor the development of secret organizations.
It’s understandable that, in time of general reaction, when government prevents all possibility of public life from a movement the secret organization is the only possible method to conserve the movement, but, by recognizing this, we should not remain blind to the unavoidable defects of such organizations and glorify their importance. A secret organization can always be considered as just a method, which the danger of the moment justifies, but that can never successfully propel, or start, a social revolution. In the atmosphere of secret meetings the individual easily forgets this irrefutable fact. The magical influence that those organizations exert over young elements, romantically willing, is a powerful obstacle to a clear observation of propaganda and blinds many to the truth. All is seen through a dream, not as it really is but as one wants it to be.
The secret organizations of the old Russian revolutionaries had a huge contribution, but despite that they had to slowly bloody themselves and their ideas never managed to reach the masses. The movement has recently made itself invincible when with the development of the Russian industry, the great masses of the proletariat, and the peasants to some degree, adhered to socialist ideas.
Besides, a clandestine movement is intertwined with a series of serious defects that inevitably occur from its existence. Above all they are in a continuous struggle with the guardians of State order, that are always spying everywhere for plots and if needed create them themselves. That struggle forces the conspirator to always be seeking new security procedures, which generates, besides a huge waste of energies, a permanent morbid suspicion of all, the kind that converts itself into a second nature. Suspicion introduces itself everywhere and permanently destroys countless lives. I only need to remember the Poucquart affair, which not only was the tragedy of his life but for a long time divided the movement, thus paralyzing its force. It’s also obvious that personal issues in such movements have a fatal effect, the more limited is the circle of its activities the more serious is its effect. Remember the bitter fights between Barbès and Barqui, in the secret societies during the government of Louis-Philippe, which for a long time paralyzed the activities of their organizations.
All these events place on clandestine movements a certain character and have a powerful influence over the spiritual structure of their own members. They hurt the spiritual developments of the movements and their creative aptitudes, because they are always obliged to impose their destructive efficiency.
In such a period of reaction and secret connections the anarchist movement entered the last decade of the past century and naturally hasn’t managed to rid itself of the influence of the new atmosphere. With the passing of the years the anarchist ranks got used to considering clandestine activity as normal. The new elements that joined the movement, during the conspiracy period, had a special inclination to consider the secret organization and its activity as a logical consequence of the anarchist movement and that it should be placed before any public activity. A concept in that sense was defended by the Italian Committee for Social Revolution in its lengthy letter to the 7th Congress of the International, November 1874 in Brussels. In the aforementioned manifest all public activity is renounced by the revolutionaries as dangerous. They say:
The mass repressions carried out by the governments, obligated us to secret plotting as our sole activity. As that form of organization is vastly superior we congratulate ourselves, because the persecutions ended the public International. We will continue with the path of secrecy, we have elected it as the only way to reach our goal: Social Revolution.
This was the situation of the movement when several radical German social-democrats abroad got acquainted with it. The big ideological struggles in the center of the International passed on to the German proletariat almost without a mark. One could only distinguish the influence of the grand Workers Alliance in Germany. The old contacts of the precursors of Anarchism in Germany had long been forgotten, while the German workers started to organize themselves autonomously. The writings of Karl Grün, Moses Hess, Wilhelm Marr, etc. were completely ignored by them, as were the valuable lessons of Proudhon, which by the fourth and fifth decades (of the XIXth century) had been published in Germany. The whole movement was thus under the influence of the social-democrats.
The horrendous persecutions to the anarchist movement in the Latin countries chased away a big quantity of refugees to the French Switzerland. There French, Italians and Spanish met. That circle got bigger when in Germany a law against socialists was implemented; many Germans had to seek refuge abroad due to the persecutions. The Jura Federation, which had a big influence in Switzerland in the past decade, carried out lively propaganda in which the refugees participated. In those circles, German workers such as Emilio Werner, Eisenhauer and August Reinsdorf got acquainted with Anarchism. It was exactly that evolutionary phase of the movement, that we’ve talked about, which they met and that had a special mark on their evolution. In the spirit of the time there was the Arbeiter-Zeitung which was founded in July 1876 in Berna, the first anarchist periodical in German. When the Reichstag adopted, two years later, the law against all socialists and the whole socialist movement was declared illegal, it naturally contributed a great deal to the new tendency heading towards extremism.
Besides, one needs to add a new factor of extreme importance. In Russia the terrible campaign of the Narodnaya Volya, against the representatives of the tsarist absolutism, ignited a never before seen passion in Europe. The actions of the Russian revolutionaries had a magical influence over the socialist movement in Europe, especially where the movement was persecuted by the government. There’s nothing that contributes as much to awaken the violent instincts in humans as the thirst for revenge and the incessant abuse of their dignity. You have to live in a period like that to understand its fatal influence. The eternal persecutions of the police, the trickery that you’re exposed to everyday, the economic conditions and the provocation from all parties, can break down the most peaceful of persons. When this happens to a person of great personal value, like August Reinsdorf, who was truly chased from city to city like a wild beast, it’s understandable that the spirit eventually overflows with vengeful thoughts which will have a decisive influence over everything they do, including their propaganda. The more victims are sacrificed, the more rooted the thirst for vengeance gets.
One can understand that in such a state of stimulation there’s little comprehension for the development of ideas and acts. The spiritual communication with the popular masses gradually disappears and in an even worse manner when the extreme aspects of revolutionaries occur. Despite that, he is convinced that it’s the way to get closer to the people, when in reality the opposite happens. It’s impossible to understand the special psychology of a person while we don’t know the atmosphere of the sphere in which he acts. And that was the cause for its great acceptance. The way for a great organizing activity, with its basis on the people, completing itself with new ideas and then soaking itself with the practical life of the people, a mutual and effective exchange without which a true popular movement is incomprehensible. This way, it loses itself little by little and all kinds of hallucinations that aren’t even close to reality start taking place. But it can’t be in any other way since all activity, no matter how big it is, at the margin of the masses is a result of the State of Emergency. The grand blossoming thinking of organizing masses, as represented with the International, little by little is left behind. The organization becomes a small circle of conspirators, all the while believing it has a certain importance, and naturally it can have a very limited influence. With this in mind Reinsdorf conceived the organization about which in July 1880 he stated in Freíheit Most the following thoughts:
When we consider the terror against the German socialist workers by a small fraction of Reichstag employees and journalists, that culminated in the expulsion of the Hasselman and Most parties, the taunting of social-revolutionary workers and the despise for all revolutionary activity, we reach the conclusion that the cause for that lamentable event lies with the same German workers that with their centralized organization created that fetishist party, which places itself against all individual action and boycotts all that may make room for any doubt over its infallibility. The great lesson that one should take from those achievements of the German socialists is to in the future maintain their individual self-determination against all that is titled as leader. Each individual must have the right to adjust their revolutionary action; in accordance to their idea each independent group must have the right to employ, in their social ground, as a method for liberation poison, daggers, dynamite… without being declared as irresponsible or at the service of the police. Each group must also have the right to unite for certain common actions with one or more distinct groups without being accused of plotting against the party tactics and other artificial considerations and words that, so far, only have the object of the creation of privileges. Freedom of revolutionary action for each individual and each group, freedom for each group and individual of coalition and, as a result, the acceleration of initiatives and the confidence in the individual’s own force as a benefit for the cause by means of actions and what’s more important: the liberation from the huge weight that are the incompetent bosses to an action, that’s the result of an anti-authoritarian organization of socialist revolutionary character.
In issue 39 of Freíheit (1880) Reinsdorf once again talks about anarchist organization, saying:
What’s the current state of anarchist organization? You don’t hear much about large congresses, speeches and resolutions; without being guilty of disobedience against the discipline of the party (the word sounds very militarist) each group and even each member works in their own way towards the revolution, assured of the solidarity agreement of their comrades, regarding acts of propaganda. But a sudden lightning in Neva, a quick glow in Deniester, a peasant conspiracy in Romania, an armed assault on the tax collectors in the Sierra Nevada vales, a colossal demonstration in the world city near the Sena or a scuffle with the police in the republican coasts of Aar, are the vital signs that from time to time demonstrate that they always have the goal in their sights: the destruction of the current society.
As it’s easy to observe, Reinsdorf conceives organization almost exclusively under the principles of conspiracy and terrorist actions. All anarchists of the time were around this same point of view. The natural essence of Anarchism was not known to them or known very superficially without any perfection and the majority of them confused a circumstantial necessity for the movement with the essential of anarchist propaganda. That’s why Reinsdorf got lost in purely Blanquist ideals, without realizing he was being influenced by extremely authoritarian ideas. For instance, in September 1880 in correspondence on Freíheit he incentivizes the German workers to study thoroughly the Catéchisme révolutionnaire, which he mistakenly claims to be – like many others did – of the revolutionary Bakunin, when in fact they were written by Netschaiev and it was exactly this document that excited in him the denial of all personal feelings, of all personality in general. But that didn’t just happen to Reinsdorf. The so called Executive Revolutionary Committee of New York about which John Most talked about a lot in the 80’s (of the XIXth century), but that most likely existed more in their imagination than in reality, was most definitely not the result of anarchist ideas. In such periods of general reaction when the revolutionary movements can only exist clandestinely, those confusions are inevitable. It’s an atmosphere of errors from which nobody can completely rid themselves of.