By M. B.
JOHN MOST suddenly died in Cincinnati, March 17. He was on an agitation trip, and when he reached Cincinnati he took sick with erysipelas and died within a few days, surrounded by his comrades.
Shortly before that he had the fortune to taste of the kindness and good breeding of the police once more. Some friends in Philadelphia arranged a meeting to celebrate Most's sixtieth birthday. He was one of the speakers; but the police of that city interpreted the American Constitution, which speaks of the right to free speech and assembly, as giving the right to forcibly disperse the meeting.
Conscious misrepresentation and ignorance, the twin angels that hover over the throne of the newspaper kingdom of this country, have made John Most a scarecrow. Organized police authorities and police justices that can neither be accused of a surplus of intelligence nor even of the shadow of love of fairness, made him their target whenever they felt the great calling to save their country from disaster. Naturally the mob of law-abiding citizens must be assured from time to time that their masters have a sacred duty to perform, that they earn the right of graft.
Most was born at Augsburg, Bavaria, February 5, 1846. According to his memoirs, he early found it necessary to resist the tyranny of a stepmother and the miserable treatment of his master. As a bookbinder apprentice, at a very early age, he took to his heels and went on the road of the world, where he soon came in contact with revolutionary ideas in the labor movement that greatly inspired him and urged him to read and study. It might be more appropriately said that he developed a ravenous appetite for knowledge and research of all the works of human science.
At that time socialistic ideas had just begun to exercise great influence upon the thinking mind of the European continents. The zeal and craving for knowledge displayed by the working people of those days can hardly be properly estimated, especially by the proletariat of this country, whose literature and source of knowledge chiefly consists of the daily papers. Workingmen, who worked ten and twelve hours in factories and shops, spent their evenings in study and reading of economic, political and philosophic works—Ferdinand Lassalle, Karl Marx, Engels, Bakunin and, later, Kropotkin; also Henry George's "Progress and Poverty." Added to these were the works of the materialistic-natural science schools, such as Darwin, Huxley, Molleschot, Karl Vogt, Ludwig Buechner, Haeckel, that constituted the mental diet of a large number of workingmen of that period. Just as the revolutionary economists were hailed as the liberators of physical slavery, so were the materialistic, naturalistic sciences accepted as the saviors from mental narrowness and darkness.
Most was untiring in his work of popularizing these ideas, and as he could quickly grasp things he was tremendously successful in simplifying scientific books into pamphlets and essays, accessible to the ordinary intelligence of the working people. He possessed a marvelous memory, and once he got hold of an amount of data he could easily avail himself of it at any moment. This was particularly true in the domain of history, with its compilation of bloodcurdling events, from which he drew his conclusions of how the human race ought not to live.
Together with his journalistic activity, he combined oral propaganda. His power of delivery was marvelous, and those who heard him in his early days will understand why the powers of the world stood in awe before him. He not only had a very convincing way, but he succeeded in keeping his audiences spellbound or to bring them up to the highest pitch of enthusiasm.
The scene of his first great activity was in Vienna, where he was soon met with many indictments and persecutions from the authorities, who mercilessly pursued him for the rest of his life. After a term of imprisonment in several American prisons, he went to Germany, where he became the editor of the "Free Press" in Berlin, but his original and biting criticism of bureaucracy again brought him in conflict with the powers that be. The Berlin prison, Ploetzensee, soon closed its doors on the culprit. Even to-day those who visit that famous institution of civilization are still shown Most's cell.
At that time Bismarck carried an unsuccessful battle against the power of the Catholic Church, eager to subordinate her to the State authority. It happened that the famous leader of the Catholic party, Majunke, was sent for a term of imprisonment to Ploetzensee. When the prisoners were led out for their daily walk, the leader of the Reds, John Most, met the leader of the Blacks, Majunke. The situation was comical enough to cause amusement to both; both being brilliant, they found enough interesting material for conversation, which helped them over the dreariness and monotony of prison life.
Several years later Bismarck succeeded in enacting the muzzle law against Social Democracy, which destroyed the freedom of the press and assembly. The question arose then what could be done.
Most had been elected to the Reichstag, representing the famous factory town Chemnitz, but his experience in Parliament only served him to despise the representative system and professional lawmaking more than ever.
When leaders of Social Democracy, like Bebel and Liebknecht, thought it more expedient to adapt themselves to conditions, Most went to London, where he continued his revolutionary literary crusade in the "Freiheit." He came in contact with Karl Marx, Engels and various other refugees who lived in England. Marx assured Most that his sharp pen in the "Freiheit" was not likely to cause him any trouble in England so long as the Conservative party was in power, but that nothing good was to be expected of a Liberal government. Marx was right. Shortly after Most's arrival in London his paper was seized and he was arrested on the indictment for inciting to murder because he paid a glowing tribute to the revolutionists of Russia, who, on the first of March, 1881, executed Alexander II. He was tried and sentenced to eighteen months' imprisonment to one of the barbarous English prisons.
Most gradually developed into an Anarchist, representing Communist Anarchism, the organization of production and consummation, based on free industrial groups, and which would exclude State and bureaucratic interference. His ideas were related to those of Kropotkin and Elisée Reclus. He often assured me that he considered Kropotkin his teacher, and that he owed much of his mental development to him.
The next aim of the hounded man was America, but it does not appear that he was followed across the ocean by his lucky star. He soon was made to feel that free speech and free press in this great republic was but a myth. Time and again he was arrested, brutally treated by the police, and sentenced to serve time in the penitentiary. Added to this came the fearful attacks and misrepresentations of Most and his ideas by the press, many of the articles making him appear as a wild beast ever plotting destruction. The last sentence inflicted upon him was after the Czolgosz act. He was arrested for an article by the Radical Karl Heinzen, that had been written many years ago and the author of which had been dead a long time. The article had not the slightest relation to the act, did not contain a single reference to the conditions of this country, and treated altogether of European conditions of fifty years ago. In the face of this sentence one cannot but help think of Tolstoi's "Power of Darkness." Only the Power of Darkness in the minds of the judges before whom Most was tried and the newspaper men, who helped in arousing public opinion against him, were responsible for the sentence