Guy A. Aldred Archive
Source: PDF Scans from Marxists.org; OCR'ing and editing from RevoltLib.com.
Transcription/Markup: Andy Carloff
Online Source: RevoltLib.com; 2021
Joseph Dietzgen, famous for his association with Karl Marx and Ludwig Feuerbach, and his philosophical essays, was editing the Socialist Party organ, Der Socialist, at the time of the Chicago demonstrations, bomb throwing and arrests.
Dietzgen was born in Blakenberg, near Cologne, on December 8, 1828. He died in Chicago in April, 1888, and was buried on the seventeenth of that month by the side of the murdered Anarchists.
He emigrated to America in June, 1849, and worked there for two years as journeyman tanner, painter, and teacher, and traveled by tramping or on canal boats, from Wisconsin in the North to the Gulf of Mexico in the South, and from the Hudson in the East to the Mississippi in the West. He returned to Germany in 1851, but again emigrated to America eight years later, remaining only two years. He returned to the States for the third and last time in June, 1884. He was offered immediately the editorship of Der Sozialist and retained it until he moved to Chicago in 1886.
When Spies and his comrades of the Chicago Arbeiterzeitung were arrested, Dietzgen temporarily assumed the editorship, and remained a contributor to the time of his death.
Prior to the fatal Chicago meeting, Dietzgen had been attacked bitterly by Spies for his old-fashioned and ornamental style. But after the bomb had been exploded, and the reaction set in, when men were denying being “Socialists” even, Dietzgen came forward and offered his services free of charge to such of the publishers as stood their ground. This was on May 6. He had lost no time and wanted no pay.
He offered his services, as he explained, because he considered it his duty to jump into the breach and fill the places of those comrades who had been torn out of the ranks of fighters, and because he considered it necessary that the Chicago workers should not be without an organ in those trying times. His offer was accepted and two weeks later he became chief editor of three papers: Arbeiter- zeitung; Falkel; and Vorbote.
For this loyalty to the struggle, Dietzgen was assailed by friend and foe. His point of view, however, was made clear in a letter he wrote a fortnight before the Haymarket meeting. and another that be wrote about a fortnight after it.
On April 20, he wrote to a friend living in the East of the United States:
“For my part, I lay little stress on the distinction. whether a man is an anarchist or a socialist, because it seems to me that too much weight is attributed to this difference. While the anarchists may have mad and brainless individualists in their ranks, the socialists have an abundance of cowards. For this reason I care as much for the one as the other. The majority in both camps are still in great need of education, and this will bring about a reconciliation in good time.”
On May 17, 1886, he wrote:-—
“I was of the opinion that the difference between socialists and anarchists should not be exaggerated, and when the bomb exploded, and the staff of the Arbeiterzeitung were imprisoned, I at once offered my services, which were accepted.”
Dietzgen was invited by the National Executive Committee of the Socialist Labor Party to write articles on the Chicago situation for the Sozialist. But his report on the Haymarket riot was rejected, because “it was diametrically opposed to the views of the Commit- tee.” Dietzgen thereupon attacked the committee and the Sozialist in the Arbeiterzeitung.
On June 9, 1886, he wrote to a friend :—
"I call myself‘ an Anarchist in this quotation, and the passage left out explains what I mean by Anarchism. I define it in a more congenial sense than is usually done. According to me—and I am at one in this with all the better and best comrades-—we shall not arrive at the new society without serious troubles. I even think that we shall not get along without wild disturbances, without ‘Anarchy.’ I believe that ‘Anarchy’ will be the stage of transition. Dyed-in-the-wool Anarchists pretend that Anarchism is the final stage of Society. To that extent they are rattle brains who think they are the most radical people. But we are the real radicals who work for the Communist order above and beyond Anarchism. The Final aim is socialist order not anarchist disorder.
“If the Chicago comrades would now avail themselves of the state of affairs in their city, I could help them considerably. The Anarchists would then join our ranks and would form, together with the best socialists of all countries, a united and active troop, before which such weaklings as Stiebeling, Fabian, Vogt, Viereck, and others would be dispersed and forced to crawl under cover. For this reason, I think, the terms anarchist, socialist. communist, should be mixed together so that no muddle head could tell which is which.
“Language serves not only the purpose of distinguishing things, but also of uniting them, for it is dialectic. The words, and the intellect which gives meaning to language cannot do anything else but give us a picture of things. Hence man may use them freely, so long as he accomplishes his purpose."
Dietzgen’s last words on the subject were penned a few days before his death, in a letter dated April 9, 1888, to his friend in the east:--—
“I am still satisfied with my approach to the Anarchists, and am convinced that I have accomplished some good by it."