Albert Tarn Institute

Teaching and Socio-Political Research in Culture, Technology and Environment

header photo

Albert Tarn in Walsall

The Albert Tarn Institute is dedicated to the memory of the nineteenth century Midlands activism of Albert Tarn - Huddersfield's nineteenth-century anarchist and architect. The Albert Tarn Institute at Walsall aims to renew the ethos of Albert Tarn of Huddersfield to create an open and collaborative space for debate, discussion and learning on behalf of human agency and the environment within and between individuals of the various communities in Walsall. We embrace the ethos of Albert Tarn’s nineteenth century activism in the Midlands to address issues and problems facing society and the environment in the twenty-first century through collaborative relationships with those very persons. Walsall, with its strong commitment to anti-authoritarianism and central location in the Midlands, provides an ideal base for the Albert Tarn Institute.

Who was Albert Tarn? by Alan Brooke

ALBERT TARN – Huddersfield’s Son of Anarchy, by Alan Brooke. [Reprinted with Brooke’s permission]

The masthead of Benjamin Tucker’s ‘Liberty’ inspired Tarn.

While researching the origins of Anarchism in Huddersfield I came across a laconic and intriguing notice in the anarchist journal Freedom Vol 3 No. 37 of December 1889:
‘HUDDERSFIELD.–On Nov. 3rd, Albert Tarn lectured on “The Labour Question,” and “Can we do without Government?”

So far a search of left journals and local newspapers has failed to provide any details of who called the meeting, where it was held, or any other anarchist presence in the town at this time. This is particularly frustrating because Albert Tarn was in fact visiting the town of his birth – he refers to Huddersfield as ‘my native town’ in a pamphlet of this same year – and while this hardly supports a claim that he was a ‘Huddersfield Anarchist’ it is an interesting local link I think worth exploring.

We are able to reconstruct the probable content of his Huddersfield lecture from his published writings in pamphlets and journals. As for the man himself, a brief biography of Tarn’s father, published on-line in 2012 by Stephen John Mann, provides some family background while an article by Christopher Draper in the Summer/Autumn 2014 issue of ‘Anarchist Voices’ , ( kindly passed to me by Paul Salveson), on ‘The Invisibility of Albert Tarn’, reveals further details of his life and thought. .More about his father’s career in Huddersfield can be found in Edward Law’s on-line account of Huddersfield architects [1]

Albert Tarn was born on 29 July 1862 to architect Edward Wyndham Tarn and Emma (Ne Bartlett) who were married in St John’s Church, Huddersfield on 2 July 1857. Edward was born in Clerkenwell, London in 1827 and Emma in Buckingham in 1820. His wedding notice in the Huddersfield Chronicle of 4 July 1857 gives his address as 20, Brunswick Square, London, and ‘Market-place, in this town’. They arrived in Huddersfield by1855 but retained links with London since their first child, Walter, was born there in 1858, while his three brothers, including Albert, were all born in Huddersfield. In 1856 Edward joined Huddersfield Chess Club. According to White’s Directory, 1858, Edward W. Tarn was an architect with offices at 37, Kirkgate, Huddersfield and living at ‘31 South Street’, Huddersfield. He also had an architect’s business at Wellington Road Dewsbury and acted as an agent for the Sun Life Insurance company. Although he was included in the Huddersfield Directory listings in 1866 where the address is given as ‘31 Queen Street’ he returned to London in 1865 to offices at 34, Mecklenburg Square. [2] The first architect in the town to be a member of the Royal Institute of British Architects his local commissions included St Luke’s school at Milnsbridge in 1855 and St Bartholomew’s Church at Deanhead in 1863. He was also interested in architectural theory, publishing in 1870 An Elementary Treatise on the Construction of Roofs of Wood and Iron: Deduced Chiefly from the Works of Robison, Tredgold, and Humber . He died in 1900.

In the 1871 Census, aged 8, Albert and family were living in St Pancras and a decade later he is recorded as an undergraduate at University College, London, where he was an accomplished student, gaining the Tufnell scholarship for Theoretical Chemistry and first class certificates in higher mathematics and advanced organic chemistry. In 1883 he took a post at Lancaster School of Science and Art teaching chemistry. It was in this city that his first political activity is mentioned when he joined the newly formed branch of William Morris’ Socialist League in 1886.

Whether Albert already had Anarchist inclinations, or whether he came into contact with Anarchism through the SL we don’t know, but his views eventually diverged even from the Anarchist elements in the SL adopting a form of individualism at odds with both the collectivist Socialism of Morris and the Anarcho Communists who came to dominate the organisation. He was apparently still involved with the SL when he moved to Birmingham in 1888 where he set up his own laboratory and advertised ‘Private Instruction in Chemistry (Theoretical and Practical)’ and it was while he was based in Birmingham that he visited Huddersfield and other towns as an anarchist lecturer. He also became involved with the London based Anarchist Journal Freedom at this time.

The likely content of his Huddersfield lectures in 1889 can be gleaned from the pamphlets he published that year: ‘The State: It’s origins its Nature and its Abolition’ , ‘which can be had post free for 2 1/2 d. in stamps.’ from 39 Newhall Street, Birmingham and, ‘A Free Currency; what it means, how it can be established, and what it can accomplish,’ published by the Labour Press Limited, 28 Gray’s Inn Road, London. According to the advert in the December 1889 issue of Freedom for ‘The State: its Origin, its nature and its Abolition,’

‘The author very truly says that “the State is the outward expression of certain coercive principles which prevail in society to-day.” He describes Property as “a Monopoly of Possession created by Law and upheld by the State,” and says that “as long as it lasts the workers will remain wage slaves.” Again he says, “as long as Property lasts … it is impossible to eliminate crime.” The author deals with the Marriage question and also the cause and cure of Crime in true Anarchist fashion, pointing out that “the State is the chief cause of crime.” ‘

To illustrate his views on property Tarn used an oft cited local example of landlordism which may have been referred to in his Huddersfield lecture :

‘Again in Huddersfield, my native town, one man, Sir John Ramsden, owns nearly all the land on which the town is built, and by his legal right, can keep people from building on any portions which are lying vacant, although he does not require them himself. Further without any necessary exertion on his part, he has grown immensely rich out of the labour of the inhabitants of the town. So much for Property, which, being Artificial Monopoly, is Natural Theft.
Were the institution of Property abolished, Sir John, like all other landlords, would have to rely (as it is only desirable he should) upon the goodwill of those who maintain him, for his maintenance. He would probably have to take to earning his own living.
The Abolition of Property, i.e., of the State Protection of Possessions is no more likely to lead to disorder than any other step in the direction of liberty.’

The following year he left Birmingham for London and began editing ‘The Herald of Anarchy’ which first appeared in October 1890. In the editorial of the first issue he was frank about the differences between individual anarchism and all forms of collectivism which put him at odds with the majority of the labour movement, including the anarcho-communists, while still claiming to be acting in the interest of the ‘working man’..

‘It is doubtful whether the Editor of the Herald of Anarchy will be classed as a “friend of the people”. In favour of freedom of contract ! A champion of blacklegism ! Yet such is our position. Is society in a bad way ? Is labour repressed and robbed ? Our motto is “Abstain from tyranny, for force is no remedy.” Time will show whether the tyranny of trade unionism or of shallow democratic legislation has conferred one iota of benefit upon the working man in particular or society in general.
Our position, therefore will be that of an unswerving advocate of liberty, and we shall seek to show how faith in liberty can set the workman free from his present troubles.’

However, in the name of individualism, his proposed ‘Program’ upheld the right of private property, except for land, an ambivalence which antagonised not only state socialists but many anarchists.

‘The following are the principle economic aims of the Anarchists:-

1.Free exchange. That is untrammelled by any laws relating to money, banking and property.
5. Free Police Force, for protecting possessions where necessary. With the establishment of equitable exchanges, however, there would be but little incentive to robbery.’

The ‘Socialist Fallacy’ was explicitly condemned since the socialists :

…advocate that every industry and every article of property should be directly controlled by the State or Municipality.
We claim , however, that most social and industrial evils are traceable to the Socialism that already exists, and that they will be only removed by perfect freedom of competition in all industries.’

Proudhon was claimed as one of the inspirers of this movement along with the works of the American Proudhonist, Benjamin Tucker. When Tarn first made contact with Tucker, whose journal, Liberty; began in 1881, is not known, but a letter from Tarn to The Free Life journal was reprinted in the issue of 12 July 1890 [see Appendix 4]. Tarn sold ‘Liberty’ from his address at 27 St John’s Hill Grove, New Wandsworth , strongly recommending it since, ‘there are few Anarchists in England who are not largely indebted to Benjamin R Tucker for his clear and consistent expositions of Anarchism’.   [3] His enthusiasm for ‘Freedom’ was more qualified, describing it as:

‘A monthly organ of Anarchist-Communism; occasionally contains good Anarchist articles, but is largely a Socialist paper and has great faith in strikes. Its promoters , however, take up an anti-political position, and in this they may do good by destroying the workman’s faith in politics.’

Relations with Freedom remained amicable and open to debate, the journal announcing in December 1889:

‘At the suggestion of our individualist fellow-worker for Anarchism, Albert Tarn, we open our columns to a full and free discussion of the question of property. Our own views as Communists are well known to our readers, but as we hold it to be every honest man’s business to let the other side speak and to prove the truth of his own position by hearing what the opposition have to say, we welcome the idea and shall be glad to print contributions which are to the point from either Communists or Individualists.’ [See Appendix 3].

This dialogue continued and in early 1891 Tarn was still accepted as part of the wide and diverse Anarchist community when the April issue of Freedom reported:

‘OUR SOCIAL EVENING.-More than a hundred comrades assembled on the evening of March 28th in the upper chamber of a City coffee tavern, to enjoy the pleasure of each other’, society, to renew old friendships and form new ones, to gain inspiration, in an interchange of opinion and in comradeship, for the work lying before us. A glance round the large room, with its pleasant little. tea tables, each brightened by the music of friendly talk, showed Germans and Frenchmen from the Autonomie in conversation with Englishmen from the provinces, Jewish Comrades from Berner Street, laughing and talking with members of the Italian group, the Editor of the Herald of Anarchy in amicable discussion with one of the Freedom staff, friends from Hammersmith Socialist Society, the London Socialist League, the Individualist Anarchist League, all cordially mingling with Anarchist Communists from every group in London. William Morris, from his Sick room, sent a pencil note, regretting his enforced absence. R. Burnie, the new editor of the Commonweal, was also prevented from being present by illness. After tea, Comrades Blackwell, Kropotkine, and Louise Michel made informal speeches. Kropotkine, in view of the next day’s Conference, said a few impressive words about the coming 1st ‘May.’

But by the following year a schism had developed with a Freedom editorial stating bluntly that individualists ‘are not anarchists’. Tarn was clearly out of step with the developments in the labour movement in the early 1890s, when collectivist ideas dominated in both the small Anarchist movement and the reviving Socialist movement. By 1893 he was forced to close the Herald.

His identification of the bureaucratic state with Socialism was set out in a letter to the London Daily News in 1905. (LDN 26 Aug 1905 .Thanks to Chris Marsden for this reference)

For the rest of Tarn’s career I rely on Christopher Draper’s article in Anarchist Voices, which unfortunately carries no references that can be checked or followed up. Draper records that Tarn was shouted down at a meeting of Glasgow ILP in 1895 when he challenged collectivism, leading to him being dubbed a ‘Capitalistic Anarchist’. This increasingly seemed appropriate, as by the end of the century he was Northern Area Secretary of the National Free Labour Association, an employers front involved in organising scabbing during industrial disputes. His jibe, in the first issue of the Herald of Anarchy, that he was regarded as ‘A Champion of Blacklegism’ had become a self fulfilling prophesy. According to Draper’s account Tarn actively supported Lord Penrhyn in a long and bitter dispute with his North Wales quarrymen in 1902 over trade union recognition. The logical outcome of supporting individualism in this situation was described by the Webbs in the introduction to the 1911 edition of their History of Trade Unionism; ‘Lord Penhryn takes his stand on the right of doing what he likes with his own, even to the extent of closing the Bethseda slate-quarries against the world, if he cannot get workmen who will let their wages be determined by Individual Bargaining. The Board of Trade found itself powerless to bring to an end this little survival of ‘private war’, which terminated eventually in the exodus of many if the quarrymen and the sullen submission of the remainder.’     Apparently Tarn’s condemnation of landlordism was now subordinated to supporting the strike-breaker’s right to work ! [4]

In the 1901 Census Albert was living in Gateshead, married to Lena age 27 with a son, Walter, aged one and a Hannah Marr, 13, who was still part of the family in 1911, although her relationship to Tarn is unknown. Tarn, following Tucker’s opposition to state education, appeared in Gateshead Police Court in 1902 for refusing to pay his rates on the grounds that the element which supported the Board School condoned the legalised kidnapping of children. His views on state education were also conditioned by his hostility to trade unions, claiming in a letter to the Morpeth Herald of 19 Jan 1907 ; ‘ The point to be constantly born in mind regarding the promotion of all this “official education” is that it is only really helping to strengthen the position of a vast and powerful official trade union, and that it is destroying education in the best and truest sense of the word,’ (Thanks to Chris Marsden for this reference). By 1911 he was living in Newlands Road, Newcastle giving his occupation as tutor and college lecturer. By now he seems to have concentrated on his teaching and no further political activity is recorded until his death in December 1923, aged 61.

Tarn’s Individualist Anarchism represented a small minority view within Anarchism, itself a small minority both in the labour movement and in the British radical-intellectual tradition. Draper adopts a sympathetic appraisal of Tarn which is worth noting:

Albert Tarn never claimed definitive solutions, but identified and tackled some of the key problems of anarchy. The devastating effects of the recent world-wide financial crash underline the relevance of his analysis of the political role of economic mechanisms. Despite the assertion of our class-war comrades Individualist Anarchism doesn’t simply reduce to selfish egoism or unrestrained capitalism. Tarn attempted to identify how freedom for the individual is best articulated within a social context. As revolutionaries in Russia and Spain soon discovered, problems of distribution are critical…Group-think takes hold all too easily. Impervious to Kropotkin’s charms, the Herald of Anarchy was excommunicated from the movement by a dominant communist faction and then effectively airbrushed from history. With a whisper from the grave Albert Tarn reminds us to remain ever fearful of all forms of collectivism’.

At the risk of being thought guilty of ‘group-think’ I will suggest that the last line of this tribute could be equally rendered as : ‘With a whisper from the grave Albert Tarn reminds us to remain ever fearful of all forms of individualism’. While he did make some cogent criticisms of the state and even the functioning of capitalism, he and other individualists did not take into account the central flaw of making individual property and unfettered competition the basis of ‘anarchism’. As an Anarchist-Socialist I would argue that economic activity, the production of wealth, the relation of labour to instruments of labour etc , are all SOCIAL activities and relationships. Individual anarchism does not resolve this fundamental dichotomy – that humans are social animals and social producers and any philosophy based on individual liberty has to reconcile itself with this fact and find a balance between the collective and the individual.

Benjamin Tucker famously and revealingly stated that ‘Anarchists are simply unterrified Jeffersonian democrats.’  [5], a definition that opens the way to all sorts of contortions and perversions of the word Anarchist. Market Anarchists have now been joined by Libertarian Capitalists, whose ideology in practice can do no other than bolster the free market nightmare of Neo-Liberal capitalism and globalisation. Individualist Anarchism and the protection of private property in the form of mutualisme may have had some relevance in the France of Proudhon’s day when small workshops, artisan and peasant production predominated. It was already redundant be the time Tucker and Tarn were writing in the closing decades of the 19th century. The problems of large scale industry and complex urban societies can only be solved by collectivist solutions. Tinkering with money supply and property relations to emancipate the individual, while ignoring actual collective social struggles is totally irrelevant. Individualist Anarchism was a primarily intellectual school of thought which had no means of engaging with people actually resisting the state or capitalism, as Tarn’s own career demonstrated.

What impact Tarn left on his audience in Huddersfield in November 1889 we have no means of knowing. That his critique of the state and capitalism influenced the revival of socialism in the area at that time, if only in the minds of a few, is a possibility. But there was no conspiracy to airbrush Tarn from history. Through the evolution of his own ideas and actions he made himself into an irrelevancy and alienated himself from the labour movement, the only constituency where his philosophy of individualism could have taken root – IF it had been made relevant to the lives of working people and the problems of their workplaces and communities.


[1] Edward Law:  in         (Thanks to David Griffiths for this link).

[2] Huddersfield Chronicle  22 Apr 1865

[3] For more on Tucker’s influence on English Anarchists see :

‘The English Individualists as They Appear in Liberty’ by Carl Watner Baltimore, Maryland Journal of Libertarian Studies. Vol V No. I Winter 1982                        English Individualists

[4]  [For background to the dispute see for example: LordPenrhynsMethods  ]

[5]  Tucker, ‘State Socialism and Anarchism’ (1888) in Woodcock (ed) ‘Anarchist Reader’ p.151.

For more on Market Anarchism see the Molinari Instutute :



The State: Its Origin; Its Nature, and Its Abolition 1889

by Albert Tarn, BSc


“All available authority is mystic in its conditions, and comes ‘by the grace of God.’”


The State Its Origin

The word state is used with two different meanings. Sometimes it expresses the Government of a country, and sometimes it is applied to the country or nation which is subject to one Government.
In this pamphlet we shall use the term as applied to the institution, that is to say the Executive Government, which is the outward expression of national union, and shall proceed to enquire into the origin and nature of this institution, and also investigate the question of abolishing it.
The institution called the state involves the principles of authority on the one hand and submission on the other. Times were when there was but little civilisation, much less than there is now. Actual brute force reigned paramount, and trade and social intercourse could not, on that account, be carried on in the comparatively peaceful manner in which they are conducted to-day. There was a love of tyranny and power abroad, and those who possessed sufficient power were a continual menace to the more peaceable and honest men and women. Protection of some kind was therefore essential in order that the necessaries of life might be produced and exchanged; and the labouring classes were therefore obliged to seek protection of one strong man to defend them against others; just as among schoolboys to-day, a weaker lad will fag for a stronger on condition of being defended against stronger ones.

So the toilers of the earth became here and there collectively subjected to the strong, and these latter appreciated the arrangement  for it gave them their heart’s desire, the power over their fellow-men which they eagerly sought. They were, of course, above all law except that of might, and could extort from the people the necessaries and luxuries of life as payment for protection against others of their kind.

The social power thus acquired gave rise to various other developments, to laws, to forms of courtesy, to religions. The idea of God indeed has always been associated with social power, and is still to-day, the middle and upper classes always instinctively feeling that Atheism is closely aligned with sedition. Hence the chief obstacle the advocates of Freethought have to contend against is not the stupidity but the “respectability” of the middle and upper classes. Among these classes to-day a man may indeed have almost any religion he likes, so long as he has some, but to accept no religion is the unpardonable sin.

Hence Government and Marriage are Divine, both resting upon social power acquired in an age of brute force. The strong man was deified, and hence you will never find monarchy unsupported by religion. Thus Mr. Herbert Spencer tells us that “among early aggregations of men, before yet social observances existed, the sole forms of courtesy known were the signs of submission to the strong man. The sole law was his will, and the sole religion was the awe of his supposed supernaturalness”. “Manners and Fashion,” Westminster Review, April 1854.

To have to submit to any strong man at all was of course at best an inevitable, and was very frequently anything but a voluntary act. The strong men who had gained the upper hand were naturally anxious to try their strength with one another, and sought to extend their power, and from their ambitious desires have arisen all the bloody struggles which have marked the history of the human race, and distinguished it from that of any other race of beings on the earth. Indeed from earliest times it has been true of most wars that they have not arisen so much from enmity between the peoples as from the ambition of the rulers.

The great question indeed which the people have been seeking to solve ever since Political Society was established has been this: “How can we defend ourselves against our defenders?” This struggle has made the history of this and other nations; nor is the [5] struggle ended yet. The advantages which the institution of government has afforded men for acquiring power and reaping benefits for themselves at the expense of the whole nation have been so great that one class after another has struggled for a share of that power.

Thus the barons who had become subjected to the king took the first opportunity which the accession of a weak monarch afforded to limit his power and obtain a share in it themselves. Then the various sections of the middle-classes successively strove for a share of this power, and by the might of their numbers and their power in the commercial world have obtained for themselves many advantages. Yet all the time while these various sections of the nation have been struggling for power, the poor people, the democracy, have been compelled to submit to the burdens which these others have imposed upon them.

But it seems inevitable that in the course of time even the power of the middle-class will decay, and there are on all sides evident signs of the growing strength of the people, who, after many a struggle to shake off the chains that fetter them will doubtless at length triumphantly emerge to the enjoyment of freedom and happiness and the founding of a new, a more peaceful and permanent social order, one founded not on the power of class but on the eternal foundations of liberty and equity. It will be impossible for such a true “civilisation” to decay, unless the people unmindful of the value of liberty should again establish tyrannical institution, or allow themselves to become one more subjected.

Its Nature

The state, as we have seen, has had its origin in power acquired in an age when brute force ruled, and always has been an instrument of coercion whereby one portion of the nation has benefitted itself at the expense of the rest. At the present day, however, it presents a curious spectacle. The governing classes have had ever greater difficulty throughout the century in contending with the ever-growing power of democracy, and in order to appease the people have ever and again thrown them sops in the form of extended franchise, thus giving them the “liberty” to vote who shall rule them. The people delighted with this gift have sought to use the franchise for the purpose of forcing all kinds of fads down one another’s throats, so that government is fast tending to answer to Bastiat’s definition, the great fiction whereby everybody seeks to live at everybody else’s expense.

All this coercion is to little or no avail. An apparent advantage gained in one direction is counteracted by disadvantages in other directions, and yet the more State interference the people have obtained the more they invoke, although their economic position is still as bad as ever, or if it is improved at all that improvement can be traced to repeals of Acts of Parliament and diminished state interference more than to any other cause.
Plainly Freedom of Trade in its widest sense is of primary importance to the welfare of the people, and can alone give them any steady and remunerative employment. The inequitable distribution of wealth is plainly due to certain economic causes, which are not touched by Educational Acts, Employers’ Liability Acts, Eight Hours’ Bills, or the like, and all these forms of interference tend [7] to increase the irritation of Society, and in no way to solve the social question.

The principles of liberty as a true basis for social order seem to be in a fair way to being altogether lost sight of. So many artificial crimes have been created of late years that men can hardly understand what is Natural Right and Wrong.

It is plain that although the State may have altered in form, yet in principle it is the same, for there is but one principle of government, just as there is one principle of submission. I am equally compelled to support the central institution at Westminster whether it be Monarchic, Aristocratic, Plutocratic or Democratic. It still claims my submission, and although I am graciously allowed to vote for a ten- thousandth part of one of the law-makers, I have not the liberty to say whether I shall submit to that institution or not. My liberty, in fact, much resembles that of a lamb who is allowed to vote on whether he will be devoured by the wolf or the lion. The liberty to live however, the liberty to be a true man and do whatever I choose, so long as I do not trespass on the equal liberty of others, that has nothing to do with the liberty to vote.

I think I may therefore say that Government implies the over-riding of individual judgement. When a collector for any voluntary association or an agent for any private firm calls, I may talk to him as one free man to another and say whether I intend to support that institution or patronise the firm, but can I feel the same freedom when the rate collector calls, however many votes I may have been given? May I say to him with manly freedom and civility, “Thank you very much for calling, but I do not use your institutions and do not require them, so that I do not intend to support them anymore.” If I may not speak thus, why not? Because of the fear of tyranny.

The institution of government is also generally supposed to be necessary to maintain order; and its antithesis, Anarchy, is generally associated with disorder and violence. In one sense this is true. Government is necessarily to maintain a certain stereotyped “order” of things, in which one class is excessively rich and another [8] excessively poor. Such an order of things could not exist without government, and the sudden breaking down political institutions consequently leads to a reaction, the poorer classes making straight away for the property of the rich and using as much force to equalise wealth as the state has previously used to create the inequalities.

But as far as true social order, based on peace and equity is concerned, Government is always opposed to it, and indeed it cannot be realised so long as government lasts, for no Government can be maintained except by privilege. It must have the privilege to steal, it must have the privilege to forcibly enter our homes, it must have the privilege to forcibly open our letters and our luggage, in short the state official is privileged to commit acts which in a private individual would be considered most reprehensible if not criminal. The question therefore must naturally arise: “Are peace and civility the best foundations of social order, or violence, incivility and privilege?” If the former then government is opposed to true social order.

And it matters not whether the State be monarchic, aristocratic or democratic, it is equally impossible for a consistent man to defend to privileges of Government. The only reason why the people maintain the institution of Government is because they have not yet got rid of the superstitious belief in Divine Right connected therewith. Acts that they dared not do themselves they think they are justified in getting State Officials to do for them. For instance there are few men who would come to me and ask me to help pay for the education of their children. Yet I know numbers who would do it through the agency of the rate collector. Few teetotallers dare come to me and prevent me from drinking a glass of ale, yet the sneaking humbugs will prevent me through the agency of the State.

The dispositions on the part of faddists to seek to force their fads down other people’s throats through the agency of the State, is one of the worst signs of the times, and if not sturdily resisted will tend to destroy all ideas of Natural Right and Wrong and all faith in the principles of Liberty, for whenever coercion has been established in any matter, the abolition of such restraint always tends in the first instance to give an impulse to license, and [9] consequently disorder. Hence the fear which is always felt when any new step in the direction of liberty is proposed. Such temporary disorder, however, so far from being laid to the door of liberty, is attributable solely to the coercion which had previously existed.

Thus when the law against Trade Unions was first repealed, the working-classes so long subjected to coercion did not at first understand how to use their liberty and rights, and deeds of violence were committed. Nevertheless we now reap the advantages of the additional liberty gained and no one I suppose would advocate the re-enacting of that law. Again were our licensing system abolished and intoxicants sold freely, it is highly probable that drunkenness might temporarily increase, owing to men’s power of self-control being destroyed by coercion. But in the end it would doubtless lead to far more general temperance, and indeed it is probably the only way the drunkenness of our towns can be permanently diminished.

Again were the State Protection of Property removed it is possible that thieving might slightly increase owing to the appalling inequalities such protection has brought about; but in the end it would doubtless lead to the most perfect order, equity and honesty that can be attained in human society.

It is unfortunate that the masses have so little leisure, that they know little or nothing of the political history of their country during the past century. Having obtained the “liberty to vote” they naturally think to use it to get the State to cure all the evils to which human flesh is heir. Have they long hours? Call on the State to shorten them. Have they low wages? Call on the state to raise them. Are they uneducated? Call on the state to educate them. And all the while they are ignorant of the final outcome of all this state intervention. They do not know that they are thereby perpetuating the very institution which enslaves them, that by subjecting themselves to the State they are shutting the door of Liberty in their own faces, and they do not know how many Acts of Parliament have been utter failures, defeating their own ends, and what imperfect instruments even the best Acts are, ever calling for more legislation to make up their defects. And still, after all the Acts of Parliament that have been passed [10] during the last 30 years, the economic aspect is no better, the workmen are no surer of their employment, they obtain no better share of the wealth they create, and yet the demand for Acts of Parliament is no less, the cry is “Still they come!”

The fact stands that our bad and unnatural economic arrangements can only be cured by a complete investigation of the questions of Property, Banking and Currency. In the solution of these questions lies the hope of the worker’s emancipation, and it is no wise helped on by meddling and imperfect Acts of Parliament.

Those who defend the institution of the State commonly do so on the ground that it performs certain functions which are “for the common welfare.” This phrase readily goes down with the unthinking many, but it will not bear an investigation. Suppose Jones tells me that the Royal Family are maintained “for the common welfare,” I am inclined to ask that gentleman what he means or how he can know. Has he carefully inquired of all those who support the State whether they consider the maintenance of Royalty to be to their particular welfare? I do not think it is for my welfare, for instance, and other people may think the same, and so when Jones tells me that it is “for the common welfare” I am inclined to think that his interests must somehow be bound up with the maintenance of Royalty and that he wants to force the institution upon everybody else. Plainly before doing so, he should as a truthful and consistent man make careful inquiries of each individual so as to whether they think it is for their welfare. When an institution is stated to be “for the common welfare” it is evident that someone must judge whether it is or no, and who better than the individual called upon to support it? Besides that, even if an institution is for the common welfare, that is no reason why it should be monopolised by the State. For instance tailors’, bakers’, and grocers’ shops are doubtless for the welfare of the inhabitants of a town, but that is no reason why the state should take over these businesses.

The state therefore being an instrument of coercion, based upon principles which are plainly subversive of social order, let us as brave men, without hesitation and fear, proceed to enquire whether we can abolish it, and obtain that liberty which alone can establish and peaceful and permanent order of things.

Its Abolition

The question of abolishing the State is very different from the mere passing of an Act of Parliament, or an alteration in the arrangements of a political institution. Its abolition can only be effected in the first instance, by altering the ideas of intelligent men and women through the medium for education and argument. The state is the outward expression of certain coercive principles which prevail in society to-day. It is thought desirable that the majority should force as many as possible to abstain from work one day in the week, without taking into consideration whether the natural constitution or social position of the individual demands rest or work on that day. It is thought desirable that the majority should forbid individuals to abstain from selling intoxicating liquors or tobacco, except under certain conditions. It is thought desirable that an idle and dissipated class should be maintained in the possession of land which they do not use themselves. It is thought desirable that the majority should force every father to have his children vaccinated. It is thought desirable that the majority should scorn and shun any couple that refuse to be bound by any bond but the holy tie of love.

And all these forms of social coercion, whether expressed in written or unwritten Law, the State Abolishers or Anarchists have to combat. They have to show by clear argument and by the teachings of experience, that this meddling with the affairs of the individual who is not trespassing on the liberty of others, is antagonistic to true social order and harmony. It is necessary that Anarchists should be able to clearly point out that it is much more desirable that every individual should be allowed the most perfect liberty to obey his own [11] conscience and inclination, so long as he does not trespass on the equal liberty of others, or in any way render himself obviously offensive to them.

To-day indeed we have not to fight against a single tyrant but against a majority of tyrants – against military tyrants, against religious tyrants, against teetotal tyrants, against fanatic tyrants of every kind.

The best way, therefore, in which we can go to work is this.

1. – To shew that liberty is a far sounder basis of social order than coercion

2. – To claim the liberty to perform for ourselves those functions which the State now monopolises

3. – To resist State interference and coercion (especially in the matter of taxation) whenever it is in our power.

The abolition of the State will involve in the first place the abolition of the Monopoly of Physical Force, in the form of standing Army and Navy, Police, and all the various officials whereby the law is enforced. This monopoly abolished the State will be powerless, and it will soon dwindle away into insignificance, and however complicated our systems of law and property may appear to be it must be remembered that they rest solely on the insecure foundation of brute force, and have little that is permanent in their nature.

Yes, our system if Property will go, and all those who grow fat on it, landlords, lawyers, parsons and property agents, and others will have to join the ranks of the unemployed, unless they can find some more useful occupation. Endowments, which mean forced contributions, will also fall through, and the Church dignitaries will be reduced to the condition in which their Lord and Master is said to have lived. Not that it is likely or desirable that this change may be suddenly effected. It seems plain, however, that as property can only be maintained by coercion, it is an institution which, however long it many have lasted, is sooner or later doomed to extinction. As long as it lasts, the workers will remain wage-slaves.

It is a curious things that there are numerous people calling themselves Individualists, who are nevertheless in favour of maintaining the State and Property. It is as well to point out that such people are inconsistent. Fancy an individualist in favour of the forcible suppression of individual judgement and liberty!

Again in Huddersfield, my native town, one man, Sir John Ramsden, owns nearly all the land on which the town is built, and by his legal right, can keep people from building on any portions which are lying vacant, although he does not require them himself. Further without any necessary exertion on his part, he has grown immensely rich out of the labour of the inhabitants of the town. So much for Property, which, being Artificial Monopoly, is Natural Theft.

Were the institution of Property abolished, Sir John, like all other landlords, would have to rely (as it is only desirable he should) upon the goodwill of those who maintain him, for his maintenance. He would probably have to take to earning his own living.

The Abolition of Property, i.e., of the State Protection of Possessions is no more likely to lead to disorder than any other step in the direction of liberty.

The abolition of the State would also involve the abolition of another institution which has so long cursed mankind, i.e., the forcible marriage-tie. When such a suggestion is made people generally jump to the conclusion that Anarchists favour wholesale promiscuity; but the extinction of force in the marriage-relationship is no more likely to lead to promiscuity than the extinction of force in the matter of property is likely to lead to communism. On the contrary, just as the abolition of private property is likely to lead to a more widely-diffused private ownership, so the abolition of the forcible marriage-tie is only likely to encourage monogamy so far as it is the arrangement best calculated to bring happiness to man and woman.

Marriage is the grave of Love, for the simple reason that the element of force is introduced. How can Love and Coercion thrive together? Either the woman, knowing the man is now bound to maintain her throughout her life, takes advantage of her position to tyrannise over her husband, or the husband takes advantage of the dependent position of his wife to bully and abuse her.
Indeed, the forcible marriage-tie so far from encouraging monogamy, defeats its own ends and engenders wide-spread prostitution. Only in freedom can Love thrive. If the birds can live happily in their conjugal relationship without the sanction of the priest or State official, why may not human beings? Let the preachers of morality go and read their sermons to the swallows and the tom-tits, and try and convert them from their “sinful” mode of life.

Besides the protection of property and person, the State also undertakes to enforce contracts. This function could certainly be performed far more effectively and far more economically than by the cumbrous machinery of our courts of law. Indeed a more ridiculous and ineffective method than our legal system affords could hardly be devised. I think my readers will generally admit that so far from protecting honest men against knaves, it tends rather to place additional power in knaves’ hands, to say nothing of the number of lawyers and their dependents that grow fat on this system.

The best way to ensure honesty in dealing would be by the natural method of boycotting, not that I would thereby advocate any tyrannical measures or compulsion, but that any man of business who acts dishonourably should have his name published through the agency of a voluntary association or otherwise, so as to warn others against dealing with him. Honesty will be best assured by making it to a man’s interest to be honest; and who is prepared to say that our legal system answers this purpose? Drawn up as our laws are by lawyers in lawyer’s language, how can they be expected to apply to every case of grievance that may arise? Plainly the best way to defend our own interests is to join together and make our own rules and establish our own courts of judgement, and thus save lawyers’ fees and the maintenance of courts of law, and also obtain equity in every case that may arise.

[15] The state also undertakes to stamp certain pieces of gold, silver, and bronze, to be used as a medium of exchange. Money as it is called, is supposed to be made for the purpose of enabling people to obtain bread and butter, clothes, furniture, and other necessaries, but as Sir Thos. More opines, is probably the very thing that prevents people from attaining these things. Money, as a fact, is manufactured rather to serve the interests of a class, and if we really do want to obtain the necessaries of life that are exposed in our markets, it would be quite easy by voluntary associations and Mutual Banks to produce the necessary supply of tickets or claims upon the goods, which would enable the holders to obtain them. This arrangement would answer the purpose much more better than pieces of gold, silver, or bronze, and also be much more economical.

The Post Office Monopoly also could be broken down with advantage. The reason why the State has made a monopoly of letter-carrying in this and other civilised countries, is simply in order to be able to find out whether anyone is conspiring against its authority. The act first establishing the Monopoly in Cromwell’s times states that it is “lfor the benefit of commerce, for the carrying of Government dispatches, and for the discovery of wicked designs and conspiracies against the Commonwealth.” This practically means that the Government wanted to be able to find out when the people were conspiring against it, but did not want the people to find out when it was conspiring against them. The Government made a considerable revenue in times past, and has had to forcibly surpass any attempts to compete with it. As early as 1683 a penny post was established in London, by one Robert Murray, but was seized by the Government and converted into two-penny post.

There are plenty of people who imagine that the Government is rendering the people a great service in monopolising the Post Officer, and even some so simple to imagine that were it not for this institution, letter-carrying would be in a most backward condition. It never occurs to them to reflect that with very little Government interference, our railways are in a most forward condition, and that there is steady improvement in their management. Besides that, how can one tell whether the Post Office is managed as well as it might be, if we are forbidden to test for ourselves? We cannot [16] apply the natural test, free competition, because we are not allowed to.

As to the objection that there would be a greater liability for our letters to be opened if public companies conveyed them, the objection is hardly worth considering, seeing that the Government maintains the monopoly for the purpose of opening letters when it desires to, declines to be responsible for their safe delivery unless an extra fee is charged, and cases in which officials have been convicted of opening letters for long periods with impunity are of daily occurrence.

There is one standing objection to the monopoly of any fraction by Government, namely the absence of that steady improvement competition forces upon private concerns. When any improvement is introduced, it is an experiment affecting the interests of the whole nation at once and therefore has to be made with the greatest care. Government has had a great difficulty in accommodating itself to natural supply and demand, and private enterprise is generally free from this objection.

The difficulty of obtaining any improvement in a Governmental department is specially seen in the case of the Currency. So intimately are the interests of trade bound up with the supply of money that the Government dare not try any experiment in the matter lest it should bring disaster on the whole nation simultaneously. Consequently it is futile to demand that the Government should take up this or that proposed reform. Any new idea on the subject should be tried experimentally by private enterprise or voluntary association.

Another important question which is involved in the abolition of the State is that of Crime and its Punishment. “How”, it may be asked, “will you punish crime in the absence of the State?” To this we may reply, that the abolition of the State can only be accomplished by a complete change in the ideas of intelligent men and women, for the State itself is merely the outward expression of those ideas, the machinery whereby they are carried into effect. Those who succeed in repudiating the State, will do so as a consequence of the new faith that possess their minds. Amongst other reasons, they will abolish the State, because they believe that the Governmental method of dealing with crime is a foolish one, because they believe that crime has its causes and that [17] prevention is better than cure. It therefore behoves the Anarchists to shew how clumsy and brutal are our present methods of treating criminals, to shew, further, that the State (i.e. the coercive principle) is the chief cause of crime, and that the greatest criminals are thereby protected and maintained.

The husband and the wife, tied to one another for life by social custom and legal bond, whether they love one another or not, fall to bickering and quarrelling. The husband tyrannises over the wife, or the wife over the husband, and intense animosity and mutual hatred are stirred up. Their physical constitutions may not suit and one or other must find gratification elsewhere. Intrigues arise, and secret poisons are resorted to as a means of effecting the wished for separation. Anything to be free from the bond which coercive social custom forces upon them.

The cause of crime in this case is the coercive principle, the moral code, the religious dogma, whereby everybody seeks to tyrannise over everybody else and will not observe the simple rule to “live and let live.” For it is to be observed, that it is not the impossibility of introducing a freer marriage system, that stands in the way, but the fear of breaking social custom, of being, in short, damned in this world as well as in the next. You are not living as we live, ergo, you are living in “sin”.

The unmarried woman bears a child, doubtless an unfortunate circumstance, if her lover has deserted her. But why not make things as comfortable as possible for her under the circumstances? But “Society” says she has “sinned,” and henceforth will shun her as an outcast. Therefore she conceals the birth, or even kills the child, in which case society, with fiendish delight, seizes her and incarcerates her for life, supplying her with chaplain and priest to teach her penitence.

When a man has acted dishonourably, it is desirable that he should suffer the natural punishment. If A makes a free contract with B and does not adhere to it, it is desirable that B should have some means at hand to publish the fact, and leave it to other individuals to be weary on their dealings with A in the future. Strict adhesion to freely-made contracts is doubtless essential to the peace and order or society, and it is desirable to know whom [18] we can trust and whom we cannot. The man who betrays a woman’s confidence is an example of such an untrustworthy man, although at present “respectable” society, which is devoid of any standard of human character, receives him into its bosom, and he is thereby enabled to repeat his offence with impunity.

Again the state, by military and police coercion, maintains such monstrous inequalities of Wealth, and such monopolies of possessions, that many have no choice between slavery, starvation and thieving. Naturally they choose the latter as the most lucrative and enterprising occupation, and the State, which is itself the biggest of thieves, and which protects thieving on the largest scale, seizes the pickpocket and locks him up, to be maintained at the public expense for a while, and then turned adrift again upon society with no better chance of earning a livelihood than before.

As long as Property lasts, and such appalling contrasts of luxury and wretchedness are maintained by the state, it is impossible to eliminate crime. The herding together of the masses in dens, in courts and in alleys, on the one hand is an inevitable outcome of the institution, and cannot produce any results other than drunkenness, vice, and debauchery; while the maintenance of others in idleness and luxury is equally productive of demoralisation. But the state which protects these latter in their possessions, also protects them in their debauchery. The workman who commits a bestial act, is sentenced to penal servitude and held up as an example of bestiality; but the Prince, the Duke, the Earl, may commit up the same or worse acts, and it is hushed up, or the investigation is carried on in strict privacy. How long will the people submit to this system of law?

But even leaving put out of sight the question of Property as a cause of crime, what advantage can accrue to the mass of the people by having the police and the military under Government control? If officialism is undesirable in the Post Office, in Gas works, in other enterprises; can any one shew it to be advantageous in the matter of police? Are not the evils of officialism and State-control exactly as apparent in one case as in the other? Is the policeman generally at hand when wanted? Do they succeed in catching Jack the Ripper? Do they generally do their work in the most efficacious way imaginable? Ah! But a police force is “for the common welfare.” Perhaps [19] so, just as much as railways, boot-factories, farms, and all those businesses which supply us with the necessities of life.

The fact is there can only be one excuse for the monopoly of Army, Navy and Police-force by Governments. It is not because of the advantages of Officialism, but in order to serve the interests of the privileged few.

The management of Municipal affairs could be best carried on on a voluntary co-operative basis, i.e. on the sensible and honest principle of compelling no one to support institutions he does not want to use, and of generally observing ordinary civility towards one’s fellow citizens, instead of rudely over-riding their judgement, through the agency of the rate-collector or the official. It would probably be best for the inhabitants of each street to have a meeting-hall where they could meet to discuss questions of lighting, paving and draining the street. Such association and co-operation would tend to bring neighbours together, and consequently to promote peace and general goodwill. It is indeed reliance on the State that keeps them apart, and stands in the way of establishing that community of interests which alone can heal the divisions of the nations.


From Freedom September 1889


(By an Individualist Anarchist.)

THE two primary purposes for which the State exists are these: (1) the maintenance of legal property, from which arises an monopolies of land and means of labour; (2) the manufacture of the so-called legal currency, or medium of exchange; and practically speaking Anarchists attack these two monster evils.

The State has arisen out of and still embodies the principle of Mutual Distrust, and it can only be abolished by replacing this principle by that of Mutual Confidence. Doubtless there is a tendency towards a growth of this latter principle, and hence the hope of the Anarchist.

People who are not accustomed to question the present order of things, treat as perfectly chimerical or utopian the idea of doing away with money; indeed the belief in money and the belief in property are probably the two most deeply rooted superstitions that have ever occupied the human mind. Nevertheless they are but superstitions, and until they are eradicated the progress of mankind towards happiness will be very slow indeed. These two superstitions produce much misery in society, perhaps one half of the existing misery, the other half being produced by our social customs regarding the sexual relationship, and these being the prime causes of social misery, there is no prospect of its alleviation until these causes are removed.
I give a person a piece of gold or silver stamped by the government, in exchange for something which he gives me. This arrangement simply implies an absence of all mutual confidence between us. We require the State to make these coins because we cannot trust one another, but see what this want of mutual confidence implies. It means that no exchanges of commodities or services can take place except amongst people who happen to have got hold of these pieces of gold and silver. -This means:

(1) That the exchanges of commodities and services must be considerably fettered.

(2) That those who have no money must ever be at the mercy of those who have.
Money therefore, simply fetters exchange of commodities and services and consequently hinders the final cementation of society. This is so true that I don’t suppose many people will heed it.
I quite agree with Sir Thomas More, and indeed every day’s experience of life impresses its truth more and more upon me, when he says, “So easy a thing would it be to supply all the necessities of life if that blessed thing called money, which is pretended to be invented for procuring them, were not really the only thing that obstructed their being procured.”

Exchange is the life-blood of human society, and money which is an obstacle in the way of exchange is a vampire draining that life-blood.

But how can we do without money I Plainly enough. Start exchanging on any mutual principle upon which you and others can agree either by a Free Currency representing your goods or on a principle of Free Communism, meaning the free giving and taking of services, or by any other mutual arrangement you may devise.



Freedom December 1889


At the suggestion of our individualist fellow-worker for Anarchism, Albert Tarn, we open our columns to a full and free discussion of the question of property. Our own views as Communists are well known to our readers, but as we hold it to be every honest man’s business to let the other side speak and to prove the truth of his own position by hearing what the opposition have to say, we welcome the idea and shah be glad to print contributions which are to the point from either Communists or Individualists.


An investigation into the meaning of Property practically amounts to an inquiry into the origin and meaning of the possessive pronouns. In order to clearly understand what property is we must ascertain precisely what we mean by stating that this or that object is mine, thine, or his.
A watch and chain are mine, I take it, if I possess them, and either by my own might or artifice or by the might of social Organisation, can retain possession of them against all comers. It does not matter how I have come by them, so long as no one dare dispute possession they are mine. I am quite aware that long established social custom may surround some kinds of property with a halo of sanctity and make unthinking people almost believe that a Supernatural Being has distributed possessions and by his divine commands has created the possessive pronouns. Still, when one comes to closely examine the institution of property, one finds it in reality to be just as sacred as title-deeds, bailiffs bludgeons and bayonets can make it and no more, and that, even Divine Right is at bottom no more than Human Might.

There is, indeed, no difference in nature between my possession of a watch and chain and the Earl of Dudley’s possession of a vast tract of land, of mines, of ironworks, and other such valuable items, except from this point of view, namely that my watch and chain axe so small in compass that I may be able to retain possession of them by my own might and artifice without the aid of the State, whereas the possessions of Earl Dudley referred to are so cumbrous and extensive that only the existence of the State forces (or fundamentally of certain superstitions) could enable him to retain possession and say they are his.

Earl Dudley’s possessions, therefore, partake of the nature of monopoly, that is to say he possesses more than his natural abilities and powers would assign him, human law stepping in and giving him an enormous quantity over and above his natural allowance. And it seems to me that if we are discontented with the present distribution of wealth, the first question it behoves us to ask is this: Is the present mode of distribution a natural one, that is to say, according to the natural gifts and talents of each, or do human arrangements step in and take from some and give to others, and hence destroy freedom and equity? It seems to me that the latter is the case, that human laws by interfering with a natural distribution of wealth, create the inequality and miseries which exist to-day, continually taking from the strong working men who produce the wealth and giving to a number of empty-headed creatures who can do nothing better than look handsome, and often don’t succeed in doing that.

Plainly, if we wish to solve the vital question of the Distribution of Wealth, it seems to me apparent that we must appeal to Nature, for when every man receives his natural due obtained by free contract, between man and man without State interference an either side, none can quarrel, none can complain, none can rebel.

If it is true, therefore, that the State steps in and causes the wealth to be taken from the producer and given to the non-producer, then it is true that the State protects theft, and indeed it is true of any system of property which is contrary to the principle of every man receiving according to his merits, that such system of Property is a system of Robbery, and hence we see the meaning and truth of Proudhon’s assertion La Propriete c’est le vol.

Let any one ask himself whether the State protects the Irish peasants, or indeed the English peasants and mechanics in the fruit of their own toil. If so, how comes it that the great mass of the producers of this country, amounting to 70 per cent of the population, are eternally in a state of abject poverty, eternally struggling to keep the wolf from the door? And I would further ask every working man to think whether the State Protection of Property is for his own benefit, or merely for the advantage of a small clique of idlers who live on the fat of the land. Does the average working man possess more than what by his own might or by free association with his follows be could defend and protect?

Sir Thomas Moore’s remark is as true of the State to-day as it was of the State in his own time, i.e., that it is “Nothing but a certeine conspiracie of riche men seeking their own commodities under the style and title of the commonwealth.”


For further issues of Freedom see:


Letter to The Free Life: reprinted in Liberty 12 July 1890.

Click on this link to view original:

Liberty 900712

Sir,—In your article on The Great Question of Property in last week’s Free Life you speak of the weakness of the Anarchist position as involving either hard crystalline customs very difficult to alter, or some perpetually recurring form of scramble.

It seems strange that you can attribute to Anarchy just the very weaknesses that characterize our present property system. Why, it is now that we have hard crystalline customs very difficult to alter, and a perpetually recurring—nay, a never-ceasing—form of scramble.

Anarchists above all, though in favor of free competition, are averse to the eternal scramble which is now going on for the privileges which legal money and legal property confer, of living at ease at the expense of the masses.

Anarchy would sweep away such privileges, and, there being no longer any chance of obtaining them, people would simply work for their living and retain whatever they earn. There would be little or no quarrel about property, no revolutionary movements to try to get hold of it, no taxes, no State Socialism. Why, all your struggles to-day, not only in the workshop and counting-house, but in the political field, are caused by the stupid laws of property and money, which result in a never-ending scramble.

Anarchy means peace; it means every one getting what he’s worth and no more,—no thieving at all, neither by landlords, usurers, lawyers, tax-collectors, nor even by pick-pockets and burglars when the present contrasts of wealth vanish.

Your property laws are as stupid as any other laws. They defeat their own ends.

Albert Tarn

For files of some issues of Freedom see:

The current objection to Anarchism, that it would throw property titles and especially land titles into hopeless confusion, has originated an interesting discussion in The Free Life between Auberon Herbert, the editor, and Albert Tarn, an Anarchistic correspondent. Mr. Tarn is substantially right in the position that he takes; his weakness lies in confining himself to assertion,—a weakness of which Mr. Herbert promptly takes advantage.

Mr. Tarn’s letter is as follows:

‘In Mr. Herbert’s rejoinder the case against Anarchism is exceptionally well put, and for this reason among others I give it in full:

It is not enough for our correspondent Mr. Tarn, to say that Anarchy does away with scramble; we want to know the how and the why. Our contention is that under the law of the free market everybody knows, first, who owns a particular piece of property, and, secondly, the conditions under which property can be acquired. All i clear and definite, and that clearness and definiteness are worth far more to the human race in the long run than any temporary advantage to be gained by forcible interferings with distribution. On the other hand, we say that under Anarchy nobody would know to whom a piece of property belonged, and nobody would understand how it was to be transferred from A to B. Take any instance you like. Anarchists generally define property by use and possession; that is, whoever uses and possesses is to be considered owner. John Robins possesses a plot of three acres, and manages to feed two cows on it. John Smith possesses neither land nor cow. He comes to John Roberts and says: You are not really using and possessing these three acres; I shall take half of them. Who on earth is to judge between these men? Who is to say whether John Robins is really possessing or not? Who is going to say to John Smith that he shall not get a bit of land by scramble from John Robins, seeing that under the Anarchist sytem that was the very way in which John Robins himself got these three acres from the big landowner, who, as he said at the time, was not truly owning, because he was not possessing.

Mr. Tarn finds fault with us for saying that Anarchy, or no fixed standard of acquiring or owning, must lead either to rigid crystalline custom or to scramble. But is that not almost absolutely certain? At first it must be scramble. Everybody who could would take or keep on the plea of possession. We presume even a weekly tenant could claim under the same plea. But even when the first great scramble was over, the smaller scrambles would continue,—the innumerable adjustments between John Robins and John Smith having to be perpetually made. But after a certain time the race would tire of scramble, as it always has done, and then what would happen? Why, necessarily, that a community would silently frame for itself some law or custom that would decide all these disputed cases. They would say that no man should hold more than two acres; or that no man should be disturbed after so many years’ possession; or they would fix some other standard, which would tend to become rigid and crystalline, and be very difficult to alter, just because there was no machinery for altering it.

We say that our friends the Anarchists—with whom, when they are not on the side of violence, we have much in common—must make their position clear and definite about property. They are as much opposed as we are to State-regulated property; they are as much in favor of individualistic property as we are; but they will not pay the price that has to be paid for individualistic property, and which alone can make it possible. When once you are away from the open market, there are only two alternatives—State regulation (or law) and scramble. Every form of property-holding, apart from the open market, will be found to be some modification of one of these two forms.

This criticism of Anarchism, reduced to its essence, is seen to be twofold. First, the complaint is that it has no fixed standard of acquiring or owning. Second, the complaint is that it necessarily results in a fixed standard of acquiring or owning. Evidently Mr. Herbert is a very hard man to please. Before he criticises Anarchism further, I must insist that he make up his mind whether he himself wants or does not want a fixed standard. And whatever his decision, his criticism falls. For if he wants a fixed standard, that which he may adopt is as liable to become a rigid crystalline custom as any that Anarchism may lead to. And if he does not want a fixed standard, then how can he complain of Anarchism for having none?

If it were my main object to emerge from this dispute victorious, I might well leave Mr. Herbert in the queer predicament in which his logic has placed him. But as I am really anxious to win him to the Anarchistic view, I shall try to show him that the fear of scramble and rigidity with which Anarchism inspires him has little or no foundation.

Mr. Herbert, as I understand him, believes in voluntary association, voluntarily supported, for the defence of person and property. Very well; let us suppose that he has won his battle, and that such a state of things exists. Suppose that all municipalities have adopted the voluntary principle, and that compulsory taxation has been abolished. Now, after this, let us suppose further that the Anarchistic view that occupancy and use should condition and limit landholding becomes the prevailing view. Evidently then these municipalities will proceed to formulate and enforce this view. What the formula will be no one can foresee. But continuing with our suppositions, we will say that they decide to protect no one in the possession of more than ten acres. In execution of this decision, they, on October 1, notify all holders of more than ten acres within their limits that, on and after the following January 1, they will cease to protect them in the possession of more than ten acres, and that, as a condition of receiving even that protection, each must make formal declaration on or before December 1 of the specific ten-acre plot within his present holding which he proposes to personally occupy and use after January 1. These declarations having been made, the municipalities publish them and at the same time notify landless persons that out of the lands thus set free each may secure protection in the possession of any amount up to ten acres after January 1 by appearing on December 15, at a certain hour, and making declaration of his choice and intention of occupancy. Now, says Mr. Herbert, the scramble will begin. Well, perhaps it will. But what of it? When a theatre advertises to sell seats for a star performance at a certain hour, there is a scramble to secure tickets. When a prosperous city announces that on a given day it will accept loans from individuals up to a certain aggregate on attractive terms, there is a scramble to secure the bonds. As far as I know, nobody complains of these scrambles as unfair. The scramble begins and the scramble ends, and the matter is settled. Some inequality still remains, but it has been reduced to a minimum, and everybody has had an equal chance with the rest. So it will be with this land scramble. It may be conducted as peacefully as any other scramble, and those who are frightened by the word are simply the victims of a huge bugbear.

And the terror of rigidity is equally groundless. This rule of ten-acre possession, or any similar one that may be adopted, is no more rigid crystalline custom than is Mr. Herbert’s own rule of protecting titles transferred by purchase and sale. Any rule is rigid less by the rigidity of its terms than by the rigidity of its enforcement. Now it is precisely in the tempering of the rigidity of enforcement that one of the chief excellences of Anarchism consists. Mr. Herbert must remember that under Anarchism all rules and laws will be little more than suggestions for the guidance of juries, and that all disputes, whether about land or anything else, will be submitted to juries which will judge not only the facts, but the law, the justice of the law, its applicability to the given circumstances, and the penalty or damage to be inflicted because of its infraction. What better safeguard against rigidity could there be than this? Machinery for altering the law, indeed! Why, under Anarchism the law will be so flexible that it will shape itself to every emergency and need no alteration. And it will then be regarded as just in proportion to its flexibility, instead of as now in proportion to its rigidity.’

For further issues of Liberty see:

1 thought on “ALBERT TARN – Huddersfield’s Son of Anarchy.”

  1. Christopher Draper

on 26 October 2015 at 4:07 pm

Dear Alan

I am pleased to discover that my piece on Albert Tarn hasn’t entirely fallen on deaf ears. As you, no doubt appreciate, all history is itself written within an historical context and the context for my interest in Tarn is anarchist intolerance. As a lifelong anarchist I am concerned at the current state of anarchy in the UK. Parroting of class-war rhetoric, mindless perpetration and celebration of destruction and violence, bans and censorship should be anathema to anarchists but are now commonplace and rarely challenged. I met you in York in your Luddite persona and costume and was much impressed. Unlike the Luddites the current crop of “urban warriors” are often spoilt rich kids with no roots in real working class communities posturing for a while before moving on to bourgeois careers and lifestyles. No single individual has a monopoly on truth and many of Tarn’s ideas challenge my own but he was prepared to stand up and be counted and bravely opposed the imposition of state “education” on his own children at a time state socialists applauded state schools as a major gain for the working class.

I agree with you that Capital, like the State is another form of authoritarian control but don’t feel the need to add modify my self-description of “Anarchist” to point this out. If anarchism indeed opposes all forms of authority why prioritise Capital by calling oneself an “Communist-Anarchist”? I know from talking with you that you also oppose sexism but don’t feel the need to call yourself an “Anti-Sexist Anarchist-Communist”. History has surely shown that over-emphasisng the collectivist aspect of anarchism is as dangerous as over-emphasising individualism. I think “Anarchist” uniquely opposes ALL forms of authority in every guise it might adopt. Unfortunately too many modern-day self-proclaimed “Anarchists” practise domination, exclusion and oppression by more subtle means but claim authenticity by directing exaggerated acts of verbal and actual violence against CAPITALISM (or some perceived example of such, such as the London breakfast bar).

Albert Tarn was no hero but the extent to which later anarchist history ignored him and many other similarly difficult to pigeon-hole practitioners should give us all pause for thought.

For Peace, Love & Anarchy
Christopher Draper, Llandudno