International Bulletin

Peter Kropotkin

“Bulletin international”, L’Avant-garde, 11 August 1877

The strike of the railway workers of the United States of America and the popular uprising that followed are by far the most important events, perhaps the only ones, of the last two weeks. So we will return to that. Let us say first that these events have taken on a far greater significance than could have been foreseen initially. They were a general shock given to the immense republic. For two days, all traffic on the railways was suspended and for more than a week only a few passenger trains were running, and only on a few lines. Ports lacks coal; the eastern States lacked goods; steamships from Europe were no longer taking passengers to New York; in a word, all the business of this immense cartel called America was stopped.

The government, for its part, took the same measures as a monarchical State; it appealed to force.

It put in pace federal troops; it sent convoys of arms to the bourgeois and it armed battleships. Meanwhile, the papers of the bourgeoisie sounded the reactionary alarm.

The free constitution of the United States has been suspended; the independence of the States, usually so jealously defended, largely trampled upon. Just think! sacred property was in peril! Faced with this danger, in America as in Europe, as in the parts of the world where this nettle, the bourgeois, had already been able to grow, there is no longer a political party, there is only a cartel; no more flags, no more symbols, a single international coat of arms, a bag of coins on a red background of the workers’ blood.

The arrests and convictions of the glorious rabble were made just as summarily as in our backward monarchies of central Europe, and, assuredly, since Paris in 1871, since Göschenen in Switzerland[1], and these recent events show that for the defence of the capitalist order republics do not yield to monarchies. They even do it better and faster.

The events at Martinsburg and Pittsburgh, of which we spoke about in our last issue, were only the prologue of the insurrection. The strike spread with incredible speed over the whole area of the United States and in almost all the major cities of eleven States it resulted in very serious popular movements. The character of these uprisings was the same everywhere: first, the strikers derailed locomotives to block the track, destroyed the track and, finally, by these combined means stopped all traffic. The government then sent troops to dislodge the strikers from the vicinity of the railway lines; but the people were on watch, and they did all they could to prevent the departure of the troops: they attacked them, armed with stones and a few wretched rifles. The militia fired. The people, furious like a wounded bull, threw themselves on the stations and destroyed them, burning them with all the assets of the companies they could lay their hands on. Sometimes, as in Pittsburgh, in Chicago, in Newark, enraged with the bourgeois militia, it ransacked the mansions of the rich, obtained arms from the stores and fought veritable pitched battles with the troops.

In the big industrial cities, workers left the factories and mills and joined the insurgents. Ten thousand miners from the State of Pennsylvania quit work. In New York, in San Francisco, great popular assemblies took place, and the most incendiary speeches there found the best reception. If people did not move in those towns, the reason was the presence of numerous troops and bodies of bourgeois militias armed by the government in these special circumstances.

So today the character of these serious events seems to us to be well defined. The insurrection was a real popular uprising. The strikers were, for the most part, only hampering the progress of the insurrection by their pleas for patience, and by the blame they laid on the violence committed. Some, without considering that it was for them at least as much as for themselves that the people took up arms, betrayed the common cause, by coming to terms with the more pliable companies, when these agreed to not cut wages, and – what is worst! – handed over to the troops the same people who, unarmed, had risen up to prevent these same troops from marching against them.

In closing, let is highlight in a few words the lessons contained in the American movement. This insurrection clearly shows the vicious and selfish side of those trade unions whose sole purpose is the defence of wages. All this immense shedding of blood (a deadly shedding, and which all the speeches could not prevent) has benefited the cause of socialism very little! For the uprisen people, while destroying property in their anger, did not proclaim any of those principles which have become so familiar in Europe through international propaganda: the abolition of wage labour, the establishment of collective property, the abolition of the State. The uprising had no flag, laid no principle, planted no marker. Enemy of individual property, and proving it by its acts, the people have not yet uttered the word of its abolition.

It also shows something else.

In Chicago, communists of the democratic-socialist school tried to propagate their principles – by words, when now it required to realise them in actions. Here is proof of what we have always reiterated, that everything that is organised on the terrain of legal agitation becomes a useless weapon, finds itself disorientated, the day when tired of waiting the people rises.

Suppose that, on the contrary, that we had had the good fortune to have anarchist sections of the International Workers’ Association in America, in the places which had seen the momentarily triumphant of the popular insurrection? What would have happened? This: the people master of capital, of factories, of workshops, would have organised work for their own benefit; as master of the palaces, of bourgeois houses, they would have installed the families of workers in them; they would have created, in a word, a “Commune” as we understand it, and if they had suffered defeat, there would at least remain an immensely resounding act of propaganda for socialism.

Only two items of news for other countries. In Spain, the annual conferences of the Spanish Federations have ended and we will soon report on them; we already know, however, that they voted for a resolution expressing sympathy with the events of Kazan, Benevento and Berne.[2] In Italy, the Reggio section went to court for the publication of a revolutionary manifesto; amid indescribable enthusiasm, the defendants were acquitted. In Belgium, the organisation of the next congress is progressing.

End Notes

[1] A reference to troops opening fire on Italian miners demonstrating for better working conditions and wages when building the Gotthard tunnel in July-August, 1875. Four workers were killed and several were injured. (Translator)

[2] This refers to: the demonstration in Kazan square, St Petersburg, on 6 December 1876 by members of the Populist Zemlya i volya (Land and Liberty) organisation and workers’ associations. After a revolutionary speech and the raising of the red flag, the protest – the first where workers were involved – was repressed by the Tsarist police; the failed Benevento uprising of April 1877 which saw a group of Italian Internationalists (including Errico Malatesta) take up arms to provoke a general uprising of peasants in the Benevento province. Using their trial to expound their anarchist ideas, the Matese gang were all later acquitted by the jury; the successful march and meeting organised by Internationalists in Berne (including Kropotkin, who mentions the event in his Memoirs) on 18 March 1877 to mark the Paris Commune. The Internationalists successfully repulsed the police who had attacked the march because they had raised the banned red flag. (Translator)