Secret Societies of All Ages: Vol 2 - Charles Heckethorn

Book XII: Communists and Anarchists

501. Introductory Remarks.—There exists at present in a state of suspended animation an association of working—or rather, talking—men, pretending to have for its object the uniting in one fraternal bond the workers of all countries, and the advocating of the interests of labour, and those only. Though it protests against being a secret society, it yet indulges in such underhand dealings, insidiously endeavouring to work mischief between employers and employed, and aiming at the subversion of the existing order of things, that it deserves to be denounced with all the societies professedly secret.

In this country its influence is scarcely felt, because the English workmen that join it are numerically few: according to the statement of the secretary of the International himself, the society in its most palmy days counted only about 8000 English members and these, with here and there an exception, belonged to the most worthless portion of the working classes. It ever is chiefly the idle and dissipated or unskilled artisan who thinks his position is to be improved by others and not by himself. To hear the interested demagogues and paid agitators of the "International," or of "Unions," the working classes would seem to be exceptionally oppressed, and to labour under disadvantages greater than any that weigh upon other sections of the community. Yet no other class is so much protected by the legislature, and none, except the paupers, pay less towards the general expenses of the country in direct or indirect taxation.

The wages a skilled artisan can earn are higher than the remuneration obtainable by thousands of men, who have enjoyed a university education, or sunk money in some professional apprenticeship; whilst he is free from the burden incident to maintaining a certain social status. His hours of labour are such as to leave him plenty of leisure for enjoyment, especially in this country; and as regards extra holidays, he is on the whole pretty liberally dealt with, especially by the large employers of labour, the capitalists, against whom the street-spouters, who for their own advantage get up public demonstrations, are always inveighing in a manner which would be simply ridiculous, were it not mischievous. But then if they did not constantly attempt to render the workman dissatisfied with his lot, their occupation would be gone. And so, as the doctors who, for want of patients, get up hospitals for the cure of particular diseases, try to persuade every man they come in contact with, that he is suffering from some such disease; so these agitators endeavour to talk the workman into the delusion that he is the most unfortunate and most oppressed individual under the sun.

To wish to act for one's self and work out one's own salvation is no doubt very praiseworthy; but workmen ought to bear in mind that they may be the tools of ambitious men in their own class, who look upon and use them as such for their own purposes, men who want to be generals commanding soldiers. But the soldiers of the Unions are not worth much. Those workmen who are not satisfied with adhering to the statutes of the society in order to get rid of troublesome appeals, and to avoid being molested by their comrades, but who fervently embrace its principles and count upon their success, usually are the most idle, the least saving, the least sober. The fanatics of the Unions, those who ought to form their principal strength, are formed, not by the elite, but by the scum of the working classes. The chiefs are not much better. The more intelligent and honest founders of such societies have gradually withdrawn from them in disgust

502. Socialistic Schemes.—Schemes for the regeneration of mankind have been hatched in every age, from Plato and his Republic down to Louis Blanc's Organisation du Travail, and the International. Many communistic movements took place in the sixteenth century, and the brief history of the Anabaptist kingdom of Munster presents striking resemblances with that of the Commune of Paris. Babeuf and the Conspiracy of the Equals remind us of the demagogues who filled Paris with blood and fire. The collegia opificum, of Rome, the guilds of France and Germany, the trades corporations, the compagnonnage—all these were the forerunners of modern trade-unions and the International.

The systems of Saint-Simon, Fourier, Cabet, Louis Blanc, and Owen also had their day. In this country no law has been passed against trade-unions, and therefore they flourish here, and have led to deplorable events, such as the Sheffield outrages, which, for diabolical fury, deserve to be placed side by side with the doings of the Commune. The reader will probably remember the fact that men who had belonged to the Sheffield trade-unions, but withdrew from them, were assassinated, their houses blown up, and every imaginable kind of tyranny and persecution practised upon them for the space of some fifteen years. Still, as the majority of the Parisian workmen were innocent of the crimes of the Commune, so the trade-unions were not answerable for the doings of a restricted number of their members. But these trade-unions, dating from about the year 1833, are still to be condemned, because they are the instigators and upholders of strikes, the greatest curse, not on the hated capitalist, but on the poor workman. Now the International was a combination of trade-unions, with the additional poison of Communism diffused throughout its system.