Johann Most, self-styled anarchist communist found sympathetic ears in New York after arriving in 1882. He promoted “propaganda of the deed,” acts of violence that would energize the masses. After the assassination of President McKinley, he wrote that it was not a crime to kill a ruler. Most gave a speech at Cooper Union twenty-two years after Abraham Lincoln gave his promoting ideas not found in the Constitution; in the latter’s audience was Horace Greeley of the New York Tribune, who employed Karl Marx (with Friedrich Engels assisting) as his European correspondent.
By late 1864, fully a quarter of Lincoln’s army were German immigrants led by expelled revolutionaries of Europe’s 1848 socialist upheavals. Col. Rudolph von Rosa, an early member of the New York Communist Club, led the all-German Forty-sixth New York Regiment.
Planting Anarchism in America
“The failures and disappointments resulting from the series of national elections from 1874 to 1884 at last made an opening for party movements voicing the popular discontent and openly antagonistic to the traditional Constitution.
The Socialist Labor party held its first national convention in 1877. Its membership was mostly foreign; of twenty-four periodical publications then carried on in the party interest, only eight were in the English language; and this polyglot press gave justification to the remark that the movement was in the hands of people who proposed to remodel the institutions of the country before they had acquired its language.
The alien origin of the movement was emphasized by the appearance to two Socialist members of the Reichstag, who made a tour of the country in 1881 to stir up interest in the cause. It was soon apparent that the Socialist party organization was too hindered by the fact that it was too studious and its discussions too abstract to suit the energetic temper of the times. Many Socialists broke away to join revolutionary clubs . . . to fight the existing system of government.
At this critical moment in the process of social disorganization, the influence of foreign destructive thought made itself felt. The arrival of Johann Most from Europe in the fall of 1882 supplied this revolutionary movement with a leader who made anarchy its principle. Originally a German Socialist aiming to make the state the sole landlord and capitalist, he had gone over to anarchism and proposed to dissolve the state altogether, trusting to voluntary association to supply all genuine social needs.
Driven from Germany, he had taken refuge in England, but even the habitual British tolerance had given way under his praise of the assassination of Czar Alexander in 1881 and his proposal to treat other rulers in the same way. He had just completed a term of imprisonment before coming to the United States.
Here he was received as a hero; a great mass meeting in his honor was held at Cooper Union, New York, in December 1882; and when he toured the country he everywhere addressed large meetings.”
(The Chronicles of America Series, Allen Johnson, editor, Yale University Press, 1919, excerpts pp. 135-136)