Here Come the Rogues

Welcome to a new chapter in my exploration of the Libertarian Labyrinth. While I start to bear down a bit on some key questions of anarchist theory, over at Contr’un, I want to take some time here to introduce, or reintroduce, readers to some of the colorful characters I have encountered in my travels as a radical historian, and along the way we’ll gradually start to build an account of what these individuals have in common, and what it has to do with “Atercracy.” For those who haven’t been reading Contr’un (the blog formerly known as Two-Gun Mutualism & the Golden Rule), you can find some context there.

The goal, here at the beginning of the project, is to attempt to approach radical history as I imagine Proudhon might have suggested, to do justice to the figures in that history by meeting them as equals, setting aside for the time being the attempts to identify the ideological essence of their thought. And I’ll be honest, we’ll start by pushing it a little, focusing in on some oddballs and edge-cases. But there are no shortage of those, even among the figures that ordinarily appear in radical histories, even if we don’t always emphasize those aspects of their characters.

Let’s start right out with a drunken rogue, wandering the streets of Cleveland, November 12, 1887, the day after the execution of the Haymarket anarchists:

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A WHISKY ANARCHIST

A Young Man Excites People by Calling for Nitro-Glycerine to Make Bombs With.

George A. Schroeder, who keeps a drug store at No. 423 St. Clair Street, telephoned the central police station about 7 o’clock saying that a man had just entered his place and asked for nitro-glycerine. He asked the druggist if he knew how to make a fuse, to which the latter replied that he did not. Then the fellow said that four ofhis brethren had been hanged in Chicago yesterday and he meant to avenge their death, for which he would be vindicated by the newspapers.

“I am an anarchist,” said he.

He had a bundle of cotton batting under his arm with which he said he was going to make the bombs. He was given 10 cents worth of oil of vitrol. Some of this he poured over the batting, burning the paper which was wrapped around it. He then walked down St. Clair street.

The central police station notified the second precinct station, to look out for the man. About fifteen minutes after he had left someone told Officer McCabe of the affair. He went down St. Clair street and found the anarchist in Flandermeyer’s drug store, corner Muirson and St. Clair. There he had renewed his application for nitro-glycerine and scared the folks half out of their wits. The officer searched him and found a bottle of whisky and the cotton batting saturated with vitrol. The man was well under the influence ofliquor. He was taken to the second precinct police station, where he fervently declared himself to be a brother of August Spies, though he said his name is Harry Stephens and afterwards said it was Harry Loomis. As soon as he began to sober. up he denied that he was related to August Spies but said that he was acquainted with him. Then he said that he left Chicago five weeks ago. He claimed that he was only, humbugging on the streets and asked for glycerine for his hands and not nitro-glycerine. He was locked-up on the charge of intoxication. He is a good-looking, intelligent-appearing young man.

[“A Whisky Anarchist,” Cleveland Plain Dealer, November 12, 1887.]

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For me, this is a strangely sweet story, poignant in a way that, for example, the actual revenge-bombings following the capture and death of Ravachol don’t seem to possess. If this is, for us, primarily an ideological story, then perhaps it reflects badly on us in some way, and it is difficult to take away anything but a sense that this was bad practice and really bad security culture. If, on the other hand, this is the story of someone reacting, in human all too human fashion, to the death of comrades, a death to which even today many of us claim some emotional and/or political connection, perhaps there is something else for us here, both as a window in on the emotions of 1887 and as a foil to acts like the attentat of Vaillant.

Think about it….

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