Refusal to Pay Rent

Excerpted from the book;
Individual Liberty: Selections From the Writings of Benjamin R. Tucker
Vanguard Press, New York, 1926
Kraus Reprint Co., Millwood, NY, 1973.


In the matter of freeing the land, no less than in the other aspects of liberty, has there been a constant clamor for an explanation of the means to be adopted to secure the ends aimed at. It is notorious that, at one time, the Irish Land League had the landlords whipped if the League had had but sense and courage enough to follow up its advantage. It was not difficult, therefore, for the editor of Liberty to find conspicuous instances of an effective method of securing results, as he here pointed out:

Ireland's chief danger: the liability of her people - besotted with superstition; trampled on by tyranny; ground into the dust beneath the weight of two despotisms, one religious, the other political; victims, on the one hand, of as cruel a Church and, on the other, of as heartless a State as have ever blackened with ignorance or reddened with blood the records of civilized nations - to forget the wise advice of their cooler leaders, give full vent to the passions which their oppressors are aiming to foment, and rush headlong and blindly into riotous and ruinous revolution.

Ireland's true order: the wonderful Land League, the nearest approach, on a large scale, to perfect Anarchistic organization that the world has yet seen. An immense number of local groups, scattered over large sections of two continents separated by three thousand miles of ocean; each group autonomous, each free; each composed of varying numbers of individuals of all ages, sexes, races, equally autonomous and free; each inspired by a common, central purpose; each supported entirely by voluntary contributions; each obeying its own judgment; each guided in the formation of its judgment and the choice of its conduct by the advice of a central council of picked men, having no power to enforce its orders except that inherent in the convincing logic of the reasons on which the orders are based; all coordinated and federated, with a minimum of machinery and without sacrifice of spontaneity, into a vast working unit, whose unparalleled power makes tyrants tremble and armies of no avail.

Ireland's shortest road to success: no payment of rent now or hereafter; no payment of compulsory taxes now or hereafter; utter disregard of the British parliament and its so-called laws; entire abstention from the polls henceforth; rigorous but non-invasive "boycotting" of deserters, cowards, traitors, and oppressors; vigorous, intelligent, fearless prosecution of the land agitation by voice and pen; passive but stubborn resistance to every offensive act of police or military; and, above all, universal readiness to go to prison, and promptness in filling the places made vacant by those who may be sent to prison. Open revolution, terrorism, and the policy above outlined, which is Liberty, are the three courses from which Ireland now must choose one. Open revolution on the battle-field means sure defeat and another century of misery and oppression; terrorism, though preferable to revolution, means years of demoralizing intrigue, bloody plot, base passion, and terrible revenges, - in short, all the horrors of a long-continued national vendetta, with a doubtful issue at the end; Liberty means certain, unhalting, and comparatively bloodless victory, the dawn of the sun of justice, and perpetual peace and prosperity for a hitherto blighted land.

To the editor of the San Francisco People, Anarchism is evidently a new and puzzling doctrine. It having been propounded by an Anarchist from a public platform in that city that Anarchism must come about by peaceful methods and that physical force is never justifiable except in self-defense, the People declares that, except physical force, it can see but two methods of settling the labor question: one the voluntary surrender of privileges by the privileged class, which it thinks ridiculous, and the other the ballot, which it rightly describes as another form of force. Therefore the People, supposing itself forced to choose between persuasion, the ballot, and direct physical force, selects the last. If I were forced to the alternative of leaving a question unsettled or attempting one of three ineffectual means of settling it, I think I should leave it unsettled. It would seem the wiser course to accept the situation. But the situation is not so hopeless. There is a fourth method of settling the difficulty, of which the People seems never to have heard, - the method of passive resistance, the most potent weapon ever wielded by man against oppression. Power feeds on its spoils, and dies when its victims refuse to be despoiled. They can't persuade it to death; they can't vote it to death; they can't shoot it to death; but they can always starve it to death. When a determined body of people, sufficiently strong in numbers and force of character to command respect and make it unsafe to imprison them, shall agree to quietly close their doors in the faces of the tax-collector and the rent-collector, and shall, by issuing their own money in defiance of legal prohibition, at the same time cease paying tribute to the money-lord, government, with all the privileges which it grants and the monopolies which it sustains, will go by the board. Does the People think this impracticable? I call its attention, then, to the vast work that was done six years ago in Ireland by the old Irish Land League, in defiance of perhaps the most powerful government on earth, simply by shutting the door in the face of the rent-collector alone. Within a few short months from the inauguration of the "No-Rent" policy landlordry found itself upon the verge of dissolution. It was at its wits end. Confronted by this intangible power, it knew not what to do. It wanted nothing so much as to madden the stubborn peasantry into becoming an actively belligerent mob which could be mowed down with Gatling guns. But, barring a paltry outbreak here and there, it was impossible to goad the farmers out of their quiescence, and the grip of the landlords grew weaker every day.

"Ah! but the movement failed," I can hear the People reply. Yes, it did fail; and why? Because the peasants were acting, not intelligently in obedience to their wisdom, but blindly in obedience to leaders who betrayed them at the critical moment. Thrown into jail by the government, these leaders, to secure their release, withdrew the "No-Rent Manifesto," which they had issued in the first place not with any intention of freeing the peasants from the burden of an "immoral tax," but simply to make them the tools of their political advancement. Had the people realized the power they were exercising and understood the economic situation, they would not have resumed the payment of rent at Parnell's bidding, and today they might have been free. The Anarchists do not propose to repeat their mistake. That is why they are devoting themselves entirely to the inculcation of principles, especially of economic principles. In steadfastly pursuing this course regardless of clamor, they alone are laying a sure foundation for the success of the revolution, though to the People of San Francisco, and to all people who are in such a devil of a hurry that they can't stop to think, they seem to be doing nothing at all.


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