Our class memory, on The Beast of Property by Johann Most - ICG

The Internationalist Communist Group's introduction to Johann Most's text 'Beast of Property', in which they critically examine the notion that Social Democracy was the revolutionary pole of the workers' movement prior to 1914.

Submitted by redtwister on November 2, 2017


We have chosen to present here a text, called "The Beast of Property", written by Johann Most in 1883, for different reasons: first of all, we want to break with a myth: the myth claiming that no revolutionary organization existed outside and against Social Democracy before 1914. Indeed, all those who never accepted that Social Democracy (considered here as the whole of the parties organized in and around the Second International)1 was counterrevolutionary from its birth, created a myth, a myth claiming that before the fateful date of 1914 Social Democracy was a revolutionary organization defending the interests of the proletariat. This meant that, according to Social Democracy, any attempt to organize outside and against itself, was condemned to political death and/or sectarianism. We completely disagree with this position. Without going into details, it is important to mention that Social Democracy was engendered by the counterrevolution that followed the defeat of the Paris Commune and more generally the defeat of the whole proletarian movement of that period. Ideologizing the revolutionary program elaborated by Marx and Engels, emptying it of its necrological content2 to keep only its envelop, its form, its words, Social Democracy created "marxism" (i.e. an attempt to give a new look to the same old theories of political economy that Marx criticized) and by that, a fictitious filiation with the First International of which it took the name: Second International; Social Democracy, the party of Capital for the workers, became a major force of attraction for the proletariat which was then framed and disciplined in order to participate in the good functioning of the system. How did Social Democracy do that? It disintegrated the proletariat into a mere economic category: the workers, reducing the proletariat to "those who work", no matter if they fight against work or not, annihilating any attempt at struggling. On the other hand, Social Democracy aimed to organize the whole life of these workers: it created trade unions, schools, universities, cultural groups, choral groups, etc., so as to control every minute of the workers' life and be able to channel every fit of anger into a claim for "better living conditions", the aim of which was to make exploitation acceptable to the exploited.

In Germany the strength of the Social Democratic Party was immense, but many militants tried to organize against it. "Die Jungen" ('The Young') are one of the most interesting oppositions, because, from 1889 to 1891, the date of their expulsion from the SDP, this group, in its fight against reformism and parliamentarism, claimed Marx's revolutionary program and rejected what Social Democracy had made of it. Other oppositions fought against the counterrevolutionary nature of an organization that spoke out in the name of the revolution but defended reformism, parliamentarism, gradualism and pacifism; but very few of them were able to reappropriate the bases of the revolutionary program elaborated by Marx, very few militants recognized the difference between Marx and "marxism" (in the sense of the ideologization of Marx's criticism), and many negated the programmatical importance of the former in their struggle against the latter. This weakness led the militants breaking with the SDP to the anarchist ideology... Indeed, to briefly sum up this quite complex process, let's say that the leadership of the opposition to Social Democracy was, in most cases, confiscated by the anarchist ideology. The story of "Die Jungen" is a good example of this process. After their exclusion from the SDP, "Die Jungen" created the "Gathering of the Inde pendent Socialists" that united two divergent tendencies: the first one opposing the counterrevolutionary and parliamentarist character of the SDP, the second one opposing the exclusions and the dictatorship of the SDP as well as the "compulsory centralisation that comes with it". Up until 1893, "Der Sozialist", the journal of the newborn organization, will be the centre of polemics between the two tendencies. From 1893, and in spite of the so-called Oppositional tendency, Gustav Landauer takes the leadership of the journal. The Oppositional tendency quits. Some of its militants will go back to the SDP, the others will stop all activities. What is left of "Die Jungen" and "Der Sozialist", under Landauer's influence will turn to the social democratic version of anarchism: educationism (to educate each proletarian before taking mass actions), self-management (to form little communities producing in accordance with their needs) and pacifism (against violence and direct action). Landauer stands for "a real democracy" and rejects the dictatorship of the proletariat ("Would it be a threat... I would hate it and fight against it as if it was the plague" he said). In January 1919 (!!) Landauer goes back to the parliament (to propagate his ideas and "fight without concession" the parliamentary system). He will be assassinated in May 1919, his work done: the breaking of "Die Jungen" has come back to the bosom of the German Social Democratic Party.

In this short paragraph we wanted to recall the role of Social Democracy and the necessity to break the myth created about it. It is in this sense that we consider "The Beast of Property" as being interesting and important. This text belongs to the whole of the attempts made to break with Social Democracy, that is the first reason why we publish it.


The second reason why we present this text is that it is representative of the period in which it was written. It really is an expression of the struggles of its epoch, as well as the memory of the attempts of revolutionary militants who undertook the direction of the struggles against Social Democracy.

The text we present here was written in the United States in 1883 by an ex-MP of the SDP: Johann Most. The trajectory of this militant is interesting inasmuch as it is representative of the trajectory of many of his comrades and, in general, of many militants all over the world in their fight against Social Democracy.

Born in 1846 in Germany, Johann Most joined in 1867 the Zurich section of the International Working-Men's Association (First International). From 1869 until 1870, he lived in Austria, in Vienna (where he was three times sent to jail because of his militant activities). In 1871, he was expelled from that country and he went back to Germany where he edited social democratic newspapers. In 1874, he was elected to the Reichstag. This experience led him to break with the SDP. Indeed, instead of finding a place where he could defend Socialism and the interest of the working class, he discovered what he called later "a theatre of marionettes", being silenced each time when the defence of the working class was at stake. Most had thought that the parliament could be used as a tribune for the revolution. He quickly experienced that it was only a show. Many other militants underwent the same experience, from Karl Liebknecht to Domela Nieuwenhuis and Otto Rühle, who broke with parliamentarism at different periods but on the same basis. In 1878, Most was re- elected to the Reichstag, but the same year, he broke with the party and, at the same time, with parliamentarism.

1878 is the year when socialist activities were banned by the Bismarck government. In fact, these anti-socialist laws (they were called 'Exceptional Laws') did not prevent the SDP from taking part in the Reichstag, far from it. These were laws against militant activities, that is to say against the militant press, against propaganda, meetings, demonstrations... Therefore all these activities had to be done illegally, and the SDP refused to organize them, arguing that the party was safe and should organize legally. Social Democracy used the anti-socialist laws to clean its own organization, to get rid of the "trouble- makers" and to impose, even more strongly, reformism and pacifism as the program on the workers. These anti-socialist laws were introduced against the last revolutionary militants of the SDP. The party justified its refusal to organize illegally by arguing that it was a necessity to defend the acquisitions of the organization (schools, seats in parliament, trade-unions,...), arguing that it was a necessity to defend the achievements of the workers saying that there was a danger of losing them in confron tations with the State. The same arguments were used by the same party later, to justify the vote for the war credits in 1914.

For a lot of militants this was the last straw. Johann Most is one of them. Expelled from Berlin, he went to London where he published the first issue of "Freiheit" ("Freedom"), a journal he will publish until he dies in 1906. The SDP of Germany officially expelled him in 1880 at the Congress of Wyden, arguing that Most had anti-organisational attitudes and a bad character.

In 1881, the International Social Revolutionary Congress of London took place thanks to Most's and other European militants' initiative. These militants' aim was to re-establish a true revolutionary International. Johann Most could not attend the Congress for he was in jail because of an article applauding the assassination of Alexander II.

The Congress took the name of the "First International" but it refused any central committee or executive bureau, since no central authority was accepted except for a bureau of information. We can see the weakness of this refusal to organize around a direction, around leaders, whatever name they take, central committee, executive organ,... Because, for sure, a direction will exist anyway and if it is not the revolutionary one, it will be the one of the bourgeoisie, of democracy. The militants will learn it through their own experience and will draw the lessons. On the other hand, while this weakness is pres ent in many attempts to gather militant forces, while this refusal of any kind of leadership is clearly written in the programs of these organizations, it is visible that the practice of the same militants is quite different, as we will see later. The threat that this so called Black International posed, in the eyes of the bourgeoisie, never became a reality. In Europe, it died soon, but in the United States it had sequel as we will see later.

As we have said, while staying in London, Most published the first issues of "Freiheit". By 1880, the journal pushed revol utionary con spiracy in the Blanquist sense of the term (that is to say the organ ization of clandestine struc tures prepared to attack the State at its strategical points in order to seize power) and propaganda by the deed. If it is clear to us that the need for direct action, for proletarian violent actions against the bourgeoisie and its State, as well as the need to organize illegally are essential features of the revolutionary process; nevertheless, we must make it clear that the proletarian insurrection, the communist revolution is something completely different from an isolated conspiracy. If it is very important for the revolutionary militants to be aware of the necessity of direct action and conspiracy in order to seize power, it is at the same time as important to be able to evaluate the period and the balance of forces between the classes to avoid the trap of the Blanquist ideology3 claiming that the revolution could be achieved by an isolated coup.

"Freiheit" called for the violent destruction of capitalism, denouncing all partial reforms as mere betrayals; the lesson Johann Most drew of his experience as deputy will lead the struggle of all his life. Most said one day:

"that the end is to be made to the mockery of the ballot, and that the best thing one can do with such fellows as Jay Gould and Vanderbilt [american railway magnates] is to hang them on the nearest lamp-post."

Most urged the working class: if it did not crush their oppressors, the oppressors would crush them, they would

"drown the revolution in the blood of the best and rivet the chains of slavery more firmly than ever. Kill or be killed is the alternative."

And he added,

"We are revolutionists not from the love of gore, but because there is no other way to free and redeem man kind. History has taught that. No use of trying reform. The Gordian knot can be cut only by the sword, and within a ew years the masses will write the history of the world."

It was indeed very clear to Johann Most that the only alternative to the barbarity of this society was the social revolution and he was convinced of the necessity to organize and arm in order to overthrow and defeat Capital.

In 1882, facing very strong repression in England, Most answers positively to J.H. Schwab's invitation and left London for Chica go.

When he arrives in the USA, it is the time of a deep and hard crisis: unemployment, misery, homelessness and starvation. In Chicago alone almost 34,000 workers were thrown out of work. Unemployment, added to the awful living conditions, housing, ... led to social unrest, spontaneous upsurge, demonstrations, boycotts. Strike after strike, the proletarians had to face the local police and vigilantes, the National Guard units, the state militias, the Pinkerton agents,... Bosses made blacklists and lockouts whenever they needed them and the federal troops were always there to protect them.

As to political organizations, Social Democracy represented by the Socialist Labor Party of the USA endured, around the end of the '70s, lots of divisions and disagreements especially concerning two questions: the question of self-defence and the question of political compromise. Some militants of the SLP, as early as 1875, founded the "Lehr-und-Wehr Verein" ('Education and Defense Society') in order to never again be beaten by the police or the militia without fighting back.4 Under various names, these groups of self-defence drilled with rifles and bayonets. Their purpose was to protect mass meetings, demonstrations or any kind of proletarian gathering from the brutality of the State guards. In 1878, the year of the anti-socialist laws in Germany (that is to say the year the SDP purged its ranks), the National Executive Committee of the SLP banned any armed organization and ordered its members to withdraw. One more confirmation of the aim of Social Democracy: to disarm the proletariat and to clean its own ranks from any practice of direct action against the State. The National Executive Committee dissociated itself from any armed organization "that tries to accomplish by force what could be obtained through ballot". In 1879, the State of Illinois proclaimed a new law forbidding all "groups of men wearing weapons without licence" that "associate as military company or instruct or file past, wearing arms, in whatever city, without the government's permission". The "Lehr-und-Wehr Verein" and other similar structures it engendered (such as the "Bohemian Sharpshooters", the "Jaeger Verein", the "Irish Guards",...) went underground. Moreover, the SLP proposed to unify with the Greenback-Labor Party (a liberal party) to be stronger for the presidential elections of 1880. But an "anti-compromise" opposition was born that was very virulent in favouring self- defence organizations and refusing any kind of alliance with what they called a reformist party. A little later, during the elec tions, electoral officials falsified the election results in Chicago to prevent the victory of a SLP member and even though he eventually got his mandate, it was the last straw convincing many militants to break with the SLP and turn to direct action. Amongst these militants two currents could be seen: one preaching trade union work and fighting for direct economic gains, the other willing to abandon political and economic reforms in favour of revolutionary action. Nevertheless, together they created in November 1880 a new organization in New York: the "Socialist Revolutionary Club", whose most famous members were Parsons, Spies, Schwab, Grottkau and Neebe,5 led by Wilhelm Hasselmann, an ex-member of the SDP of Germany, which had expelled him together with Johann Most in 1880.

The militants claiming that revolutionary action was urgent and should begin right now no longer believed that ballots could change the system. They urged direct action and armed struggle against the State, the Parliament and reforms. And that's what they called on proletarians to do: the direct and final confrontation with Capital. One of Parsons' phrases expresses at the same time the force and the limit of the militants in that period as far as the necessity to overthrow the State is con cerned. Parsons said:

"The State in every form is nothing else than an organized conspiracy of the propertied class to deprive the working-class of their natural rights."

We do agree with this quotation. But we would like to add that by "natural rights" we mean, just like Parsons does, the natural needs that human beings feel as soon as they are born: the need of human community, love, food, shelter and the need of reproduction of his species. These are the "natural rights" of human beings. Of course, there is an easy confusion that can be made, and that is being made and maintained by Democracy. Indeed, Democracy is the reign of the citizen, that is to say, the total negation of the existing classes (and therefore of the antagonism between these two classes). The citizen has many rights as long as he behaves as a good citizen, i.e. as long as he defends Democracy. But those rights we are talking about now (constitutional rights, right of vote, liberty, equality, fraternity,... in short the rights and duties of any good citizen who loves his country and is ready to die for it) are only the recuperation and the deviation of so called "natural rights". Let us mention that as soon as the citizen behaves like a proletarian, as soon as he defends his interest against exploitation, rights cease to exist. No right is granted to the working-class when it acts as a class. Rights are only granted to citizens. Repressive terror for all those who do not behave as good citizens is a logical response to the bourgeois ideal of democratic paradise.6

As we have said, the International Social Revolutionary Congress of London died very soon after it was founded, but it had consequences in the USA: on 21st, 22nd and 23rd October, 1881, on the initiative of the New York Social Revolutionary Club, the first attempt to centralize the revolutionary socialists on a national scale took place. The Congress took the name of "Congress of Socialists of the United States". Schwab, Parsons and Spies played the leading role. The Congress condemned the British government for the repression in Ireland, expressed its support to the "populists" in Russia for their "unrelenting warfare" against the tsar, it denounced private property and "wage slavery", endorsed the decisions of London, and declared it was in favour of "armed organizations of workingmen who stand still to resist, gun in hand". Nevertheless, a compromise had to be made between those saying that parliament could be a useful means of agitation and those claiming that nothing could ever be obtained through the ballot. The compromise which was adopted let each group decide for itself whether to engage in parliamentary activity or not. Once more, we can discern, in the formal program of the Congress, the many confusions and weaknesses that reflected the more general lack of a breaking with Social Democracy. Indeed the support for the "populists in Russia", the endorsement of the decision of London on the question of organisation,...

The Congress founded the "Revolutionary Socialist Party", a very contradictory organization to which Most tried later to give a clearer direction, and which defined itself as a branch of the IWMA recently revived in London. Like the former, it was a network of groups all over the country, linked together through the Information Bureau centred in Chicago. This organization remained inactive and virtually dormant until the arrival of Johann Most, who managed to close ranks.7

Most's life is a permanent attempt to organize revolutionaries, to give a direction to the movement, to centralize activities outside and against Social Democracy. He made tour all over America and held meetings, demos, picnics, etc., in which he defended the need to organize or invited SLP members to argue with them in front of the crowd. In each city where he held meetings and speeches calling the proletarians to organize, new groups sprang up. His aim was to gather the different socialist currents, to gather under the same flag all those who fought for the revolution. It was in the same perspective that Johann Most called for a unification congress of all the new-born groups and the already existing associations. This congress was to take place in Pittsburgh in 1883.

J. Most, Spies, Drury, Parsons, etc. drafted the charter of this Congress, this charter remained in history as "The Pittsburgh Manifesto", also known as the "Pittsburgh Proclamation", and became the charter of revolutionary militants in that period. The Manifesto opened as follow:

"Fellow Workmen: - The Declaration of Independence says:

'But when a long train of abuses and usurpa tions, pursuing invariably the same object, evinces a design to reduce them [the people] under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such government, and to provide new guards for their future security'.

This thought of Thomas Jefferson was the justification for armed resistance by our forefathers, which gave birth to our Republic, and do not necessities of the present time compel us to re-assert their declaration?"

Was the government anything but an oppressor, "a conspiracy of the ruling classes" against the people? demanded the Proclamation. It went on denouncing the capitalist system as "unjust, insane and murderous", condemning the State, the church and the educational system as instruments of "class domination". Time had come "to totally destroy it with and by all means", it declared. Rejecting political reforms because the ruling class would never surrender without fighting, it defended the position that "the struggle of the proletariat with the bourgeoisie must have a violent revolutionary character". "So", the Manifesto continued, "we must agitate for the purpose of organization; organization for the purpose of rebellion".

The Manifesto ended as follows:

"The day has come for solidarity. Join ranks! Let the drum beat defiantly the roll of battle: 'Workmen of all countries unite! You have nothing to lose but your chains; you have a world to win!' Tremble, oppressors of the world! Not far beyond your purblind sight there dawns the scarlet and sable lights of the JUDGEMENT DAY!"

Besides this real attempt to centralize the militant forces of the country and even the world, the program of the Manifesto carries some reformist demands. First of all when it reproduces part of the Declaration of Independence of the United States, moreover, then when it claims for the improvement of the capitalist system through a better respect of the rights and duties, etc. These weaknesses are in fact the weaknesses of that period. Indeed, almost throughout the whole world, militants believe it is still possible to change the system thanks to the strict application of the Constitution. They think its strict application would wipe-out forever the injustices of this world. They demand equal rights for all and call for the overthrowing of a government that wouldn't respect the Constitution,... Doing so, they are in contradiction with their previous affirmations that defined any government as a conspiracy of the ruling class. The "Manifesto" also contained important theoretical weaknesses as far as the way of organizing was concerned. It proposed a federation of organizations of producers linked by free contracts, without commerce or profit-mongery, etc.

To better understand the internal contradiction and the lack of a break of the revolutionary organisations of that period with Social Democracy, it is important to keep in mind the fact that very few militants were acquainted with the polemics between Marx and Lassalle, knew about Marx's programmatical developments and analysis. Their terrain was the terrain of agitation, speeches, meetings, etc.; they did not deal with the programmatical analysis of the capitalist system, its way of functioning. This lack of comprehension had repercussions on the propositions they made for the future society, and even limited their own struggle. Nevertheless, the federative way of organization declared in the platform of the Pittsburgh Manifesto was denied later by the centralized way in which the different groups that composed the new organization centralized their activities. For the militants who attended the congress, the federative way of organization was considered as an alternative to social democratic centralism; it represented a guarantee against everything they had to confront in the social democratic parties, that is to say bureaucratism, authoritarism, blind submission, parliamentarism... Federalism is seen as a guarantee against and a response to democratic centralism of social democracy and not (which it really is) as the other side of the same coin that is the democratic way of organization. In the federative way of organization bureaucrats are replaced by elected and revocable delegates (who become soon bureaucrats as well); authoritarism is replaced by anti- authoritarism, which, claiming the refusal of any leadership, allows the society to give its own direction; parliamentarism is replaced by assembleism, which has the same basis: the law of the majority and/or the delegation that deprives the proletariat of the possibilities to decide and act giving that the latter are delegated to the so-called "higher" spheres.

The Pittsburgh Congress gathered the delegates of 26 cities, nearly twice as many as the Chicago Congress. And the Pittsburgh Manifesto was issued at the same time in English, German, French, Czech, Spanish and Yiddish.

The Congress proclaimed the death of the Revolutionary Socialist and called itself the "International Working People's Association" because it considered itself as the true successor of the First International contrary to the Second International and in opposition to the latter. And the IWPA really was the heir of the First International, even if this attempt was not, con trary to its predecessor, the expression of an international movement of centralization of class struggle. Indeed, the IWPA was created in a period that we cannot consider as a period of world revolutionary struggles and in this sense it may be considered as a voluntarist attempt. But, one cannot forget that the United States were shaken by a real revolutionary movement to which it tried to give centralization and direction. Therefore, it responded to a real need: the need to centralize struggles and militants and to give them a revolutionary direction.

From 1883 to 1886 the groups of the IWPA multiplied. From 2,000 in 1883 it climbed to 5,000 by the end of 1885 with perhaps three times as many supporters and sympathizers. Chicago remained the centre of the IWPA, which is not by chance. Indeed, Chicago was not only a pole of highly concentrated capital (mines, railways, car factories,...) due to its geographical situation (lake Michigan), but also the place where the class antagonisms were the most obvious, where the police brutality was the most notorious and the economic crisis the most cruel. Chicago had a long tradition of class struggle, but, dramatically, there was a lack of the experience of previous militants' nucleus, a lack of lessons drawn from the previous waves of struggle.

Besides the economic crisis, the acceleration of the mechanization of labour and the intensification of the division of labour changed the management of society. The machinery and the division of labour provoked more sackings and the situation worsened. In 1884, the average cuts amounted to 15 percent and the year after even more, arousing waves of discontent.

In this climate, the IWPA issued pamphlets, leaflets, journals, held meetings, demonstrations, lectures, discussions,... denouncing the capitalist system, the condition of wage-slavery, appealing the workers to wake up and fight against the misery they were living in, to fight for another society. Agitating "the Red Flag of the Commune", their placards said "No Quarter", "Down with governments, god and gold", "Exploitation is legalized theft", "Workingmen of the world, unite!". The content of the slogans of the IWPA shows the clear will to destroy the system, contrarily to the slogans of Social Democratic parties that claim the pacific conquest of the State, ballots and elections,... The IWPA (contrarily to the other organisations of the period such as the Knights of Labor, the Unions, the SLP or later the ALF) proposed to organize not only the proletarians working in the mines or in the factories, but also the unemployed, the "unwanted" , the tramps, and others rejected with disdain by reformist organizations. To all the discontented, the IWPA proposed to organize and fight against the misery of this world and those responsible for it.

During those years of crisis, many strikes broke out, nearly all for better wages and (unfortunately often with reformist slogans claiming "the right" to organize) against the repression of proletarian organization. Each time, the State militia opened fire on the strikers and the bosses answered by lockouts, blacklists, strikebreakers, etc. Apart from its work to organize and unite the working-class, the IWPA organized armed sections in many cities. These armed sections, following the model given by the "Lehr-und-Wehr Verein", drilled and instructed their members in procuring arms (guns, knives,...), in using them, in making bombs and grenades, etc. Their purpose was the "arming of the proletariat and the application of the latest discoveries of science, especially chemistry", that is to say, they were deter mined to take an eye for an eye.8 These calls of the IWPA are not to be understood as all the pacifists (intentionally or unintentionally) misinterpret them (as being calls to light class struggle thanks to throwing bombs), but as they are: a real comprehension of the terrorist nature of Capital and of the framework in which struggle against Capital is imposed on us. As Parsons said in a speech about dynamite:

"...It is the peace-maker; it is man's best friend; it emancipates the world from the domineering of the few over the many, because all government, in the last resort, is violence; all law, in the last resort, is force." (our emphasis)

If it is clear for us that dynamite in itself does not emancipate the world, that is has no emancipating virtue in itself, and that it all depends on the hand that throws it, we nevertheless want to stress the fact that at that period all around the world revolutionaries considered dynamite as the weapon par excellence. If we look back at the historical context we can see that dynamite was almost only used by the proletariat, the bourgeoisie preferred using guns and riffles... With this quotation we wanted to insist on the one hand on the militant comprehension of the nature of all governments and laws, and on the other hand, on the militant comprehension of the necessity to use violent means against bourgeois terror.

The revolutionary militants were convinced that the revolution was around the corner and did whatever they could to be sure this time would be the right time. In the USA, class struggle was so sharp and the climate was so tense that it aroused a deep fear within the bourgeoisie. Its press began to talk of "a new Paris Commune". A huge propaganda effort was launched against the IWPA and its members, who were accused of being assassins, arsonists, bombthrowers, devils,... The fear of the bourgeoisie gives an idea of the strength of the proletarian movement. Revolutionary militants in the USA tried to organize the proletarians struggling against the misery of their living conditions.

In this sense, it seems important to mention that a lot of proletarians arrived in the USA attracted by a myth created in Europe: the myth of "the land of promises", the country of political freedom and work for all, etc. Parsons said in February 1884, when someone told him that America was superior to other countries:

"America is not a free country. The economic condi tions of the workers are the same as they are in Europe. A wage slave is a slave everywhere, without any regard to the country he may happen to have been born in or may be living in."

He added that the workers had no other choice but organize and rebel or remain slaves. We can find exactly the same idea in "The Beast of Property" when Most says:

"Indeed it seems as though this young American republic had for the present but one historical mission, of demonstrating beyond controversy to the people on this side of the Atlantic as to those of the other by the presentation of bare, tangible facts what an outrageous monster the 'beast of property' really is, and that neither the condition of the soil nor the vastness of domain, nor the political forms of society can ever alter the viciousness of this beast of prey..." (our emphasis)

In "The Beast of Property", written in the year of the Pittsburgh Congress, the strongest part lies in its denunciation of reformism. First of all the denunciation of "parliamentary windbags", as well as petitions, elections and laws; the denunciation of those who mystify the Economy, all the teachers of political economy, "lackeys of the bourgeoisie", "those charlatans" who try to hide the revolutionary character of the proletariat behind a fairer distribution of richness. Most also denounces, against the current, those Socialists who claim the pacifist and gradual conquest of the power by intellectuals and scientists who will plan everything and more specifically the economy. In other words, the text spits on what Social Democracy praises, on what Social Democracy claims to belong to. "The Beast of Property" claims that the present system is worse than the previous ones: "But the climax of infamy has been reached by our present 'law and order' system...". Against these same specialists, these teachers of economy who claim this society as being the society of the welfare of humanity, Most affirms that this system is worse than the previous ones. It engenders progress indeed, into more barbarity, more capitalism, that is to say that the capitalist progress is reactionary as far as communism is concerned. Educationism and the enlightenment of the masses, cornerstones of the Social Democratic programme, are also denounced and criticised when the text says:

"Some say, general education will bring about a change; but this advise is as a rule and idle phrase. Education of the people will only then be possible when the obstructions there to have been removed. And that will not take place until the entire present system has been destroyed."

The only solution, says Most, is revolution, the communist destruction of this world, and a "society (...) organised on a communistic basis", "everything is ripe for Communism", the text says, and Johann Most does not avoid the most central point; the point that shows his permanent attempts to organize the proletarian struggles outside and against Social Democracy (and this confirms his practical struggle for the centralization of revolutionary forces, negating his own claim for federative based structures): the necessity of a "well trained revolutionary nucleus". That is to say the necessity of a revolutionary leadership! On this point, Johann Most joins all the revolutionary militants who insisted on the necessity to organize around the highest level of rupture, around a revolutionary vanguard.

The first part of the text, focusing on economy, is in fact quite confused and even sometimes wrong. This is due to the fact that Social Democracy used "marxism" as a bible to justify its defense of the system, therefore revolutionary militants (unable to differentiate between Marx and "marxism") refused to reappropriate Marx's criticisms of society. This led to the situation that the number of militants who had notions of the way the capitalist system functions were very few. This part of the text is an attempt to vulgarize "Capital". A previous attempt of this kind had already been strongly criticised by Marx when Most tried to rewrite "Capital" so as to be understood by everyone. First of all, Marx's Capital was written to be read by proletarians in an organized framework; secondly, Marx also treated the question at another level of abstraction in "Wage labour and Capital" and "Wage, price and profit". These books are excellent examples of the possibility of saying the same thing at different levels of abstraction without betraying the common content. When J. Most tried to write a new version of "Capital", accessible to everyone, he changed the content of the book, its essence, which led him to falsify Marx's positions.

Some will say other weak points exist in this text, and we will not deny it. We are well aware of the weaknesses and the limits of this text, we clearly see that they are due not only to the period but also to the weakness of the rupture with Social Democracy in the historical sense of the term. Nevertheless, the interest of the text exists and lays less in what it says than in what it reveals as an attempt to fight practically against the monopoly Social Democracy claims to hold as far as the organization (we would rather say disorganization) of the proletariat is concerned. Moreover, this text is also a witness of the class struggle movement in the USA. We intend to carry on studying the history of our class struggle in that part of the world and call on our readers to help us by sending criticisms, information, texts,...

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    Nevertheless, Social Democracy is not only the formal parties organized in and around the Second International; it has a much larger dimension: the concept of Social Democracy, in its full meaning, refers to the historical party of the counterrevolution, that is to say that it refers to the framework in which Capital enrols the workers on behalf of "socialism".

  • 2

    Here we talk about the necrological content of the analysis made by revolutionaries. By "necrological content" we mean the intrinsically catastrophical essence of Capitalism. Indeed, Capitalism, as everything else, carries in itself its own contradictions, its own gravediggers, its own death; in this case the proletariat. It is what Marx develops in "Capital", and it is what Social democracy (and more particularly, the "marxist" current, very fond of political economy) tried hard to transform and recuperate. And it is very logical: the aim of Social Democracy being the preservation, the maintenance of this system, it cannot see in "Capital" anything else but a biology of capitalist social relationships, an analysis of their function ing. Of course this is totally coherent, since the Social Democrat point of view is the improvement and the reform of this mode of production. On the contrary, we, revolutionaries, have a totally antagonistic view point and a totally antagonistic aim: we only care and fight for the destruction of this system; and it is also in this sense and from this point of view that Marx wrote "Capital": a necrology of capitalist social relationships.

    For more details cf. the article published in French in Communisme No. 30 "Contributions à la Critique de l'Economie" - chapitre 3 "Délimitation de notre critique de l'Economie: Le marxisme en tant qu'économie politique en opposition avec l'oeuvre de Marx"

  • 3

    By "Blanquist ideology" we mean the ideology based on the weaknesses of Blanqui's practice.

  • 4

    The german name of this structure reveals the numerical importance, in that period, of the immigration of militants coming from Germany.

  • 5

    Parsons and Spies, are two of the militants that will be accused of murder after the events of May 1886 at Haymarket. They will be hanged on the 11 november 1887 as well as Engel and Fisher; Lingg will commit suicide in jail, and Schwab and Fielden will be condemned to life imprisonment.

    "The day will come when our silence will be more powerful than the voices you are throttling today"

    Spies' last words still echoes and it is to prevent them from fading away that we publish this text. The day will come when our comrades' prophecy will quell for ever the terror of the proletariat's torturers... we are working in this perspective.

  • 6

    For more details on this subject, see in this review "Against the Myth of Democratic Rights and Liberties".

  • 7

    All the proletarian attempts to centralize and constitute themselves as a force will take the structure of groups organised according to geographical repartition and also according to the language of the participating militants. Maybe the division of the United States into federated states is not alien to this fact. Anyway, the bourgeoisie will use and abuse this weakness, invoking american (sic) nationalism to divide the proletarians and design the strangers (and more particularly the militants of German origin, the more numerous at that moment) as being responsible for all evils.

  • 8

    Militants of the IWPA call for the using of the progress of science. J.Most in his book "Revolutionary War Science" writes:

    "To be sure of success, revolutionaries should always have on hand adequate quantity of nitroglycerine, dynamite, hand grenade, and blasting charges..."

    "Proletarians of all country, arm yourselves! Arm yourselves by whatever means you can. The hour of battle is near."

    "The Alarm" and the "Die Arbeiter Zeitung" (two of the fourteen journals of the IWPA) often publish articles such as "The Manufacture of the Dynamite Made Easy" and "Explosive: a Practical Lesson in Popular Chemistry". At that time, all throughout the world, the proletarians use dynamite against their class enemy. Just remember Ravachol in France, at the end of the 19s century, or a few years later, the Bande à Bonnot, etc.



6 years 8 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Submitted by Anarcho on November 4, 2017

Other oppositions fought against the counterrevolutionary nature of an organization that spoke out in the name of the revolution but defended reformism, parliamentarism, gradualism and pacifism; but very few of them were able to reappropriate the bases of the revolutionary program elaborated by Marx, very few militants recognized the difference between Marx and "marxism" (in the sense of the ideologization of Marx's criticism), and many negated the programmatical importance of the former in their struggle against the latter.

That would because there are many social-democratic positions in Marx and Engels -- not to mention the inevitable (reformist) results of them arguing for the workers movement to form political parties and take part in "political action" (i.e., electioneering, parliamentarianism), as Bakunin and other anarchists correctly predicted.

This weakness led the militants breaking with the SDP to the anarchist ideology...

You make that sound like a bad thing!


6 years 5 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Submitted by Craftwork on January 30, 2018

The text argues that social democracy was a betrayal of Marx's views, and it laments that those who broke with SPD turned away from Marx and towards anarchism, but Marx was very much on the side of the SPD and devoted more ink to criticising anarchism/ists than social democrats/cy:


It is only recently that I fully discovered Most’s blackguardism — in a Russian socialist paper. He never dared to print in German what can be read here in the Russian vernacular. This is no longer an attack upon individual persons, but a dragging of the whole German labor movement through the mud. At the same time it grotesquely shows his absolute lack of understanding of the doctrine he formerly dealt in. It is babbling so silly, so illogical, so degenerate, that it finally dissolves into nothing, viz., Johann Most’s boundless personal vanity. As he was unable to accomplish anything in Germany in spite of all his ranting, except among a certain Berlin mob, he has allied himself with the younger generation of Bakuninists in Paris, the group that publishes the Revolution sociale (with a circle of readers = exactly 210), but which possesses Pyat’s Commune as its ally. The cowardly, melodramatic humbug Pyat — in whose Commune I figure as Bismarck’s right hand — has a grudge against me because I have always treated him with absolute contempt and thwarted all his attempts to use the International for his sensational tricks. In any event Most has performed the good service of having brought all the ranters — Andreas Scheu, Hasselmann, etc., etc. — together as a group.

As a result of Bismarck’s new state of siege decrees and the persecution of our party organs, it is absolutely necessary to raise money for the Party. I have therefore written to John Swinton (for a well-meaning bourgeois is best suited for this purpose), and told him to apply to you for detailed information regarding German conditions.

Aside from the trifles mentioned on the previous page — and how many of these have we seen burst and vanish again without a trace during the many years of our exile — things are going along splendidly on the whole (I mean by this the general developments in Europe), as well as within the circles of the really revolutionary party on the Continent. (https://www.marxists.org/archive/marx/works/1880/letters/80_11_05.htm)