Ferdinand Domela Nieuwenhuis

The Means of Power




This is the last section of a pamphlet intended to illustrate the means employed by the power to tyrannise people. The concluding sentence "Repudiate all the tyrants of to-day, high and low" summarizes what the author has fought about all his life.



We have examined the means of power which enable a handful of men to rule over everything and all, the spiritual means as well as the violent ones, and although there remains much to be said, we think we have explained sufficiently how they have succeeded. An artful net of tyranny has been made in which every little tyrant has a small dominion of his own, ruling over it on condition that he obeys a greater one, who in his turn finds room for his tyranny, until we arrive at the top of the pyramid where capital has its throne. All this is artfully constructed. All these things are like the links of a chain. And if you ask, by what means this edifice is kept together, we mention with Tolstoy the following four means:

1. Intimidation, so that people fear every change, which is represented to them as a bugbear.
2. Bribery, so that the people are sucked out to fatten some few, who assist one another and use the artless workers for their sport.
3. Hypnotism, by which the masses are drugged, for which everything must serve, religion as well as patriotism, the school as well as the church, the material means of brutalisation - tobacco and alcohol - as well as the amusements in theatres and public performances, the spiritual prostitution of the press and of science as well as that of the body.
4. The power of the army, which closes the circle of violence.

What are the means to deliver us from all this?
By opposing tyranny, by loosening every authority, each in his own manner and wherever he is able to do so. If someone should say that such protests are of no avail if they are not practiced on a large scale, we should answer: “How will you succeed in doing it on a large scale if you do not begin on a small scale?" We believe that every refusal of military service, that every opposition to the great and small tyrants helps to undermine the whole edifice of authority.
Don't forget that the example of the brave who venture to do this work will be contagious; for such protests are scarcely spoken of when they are imitated here and there and everywhere. What else would be the reason that such a deed is kept secret as much as possible.

No doubt much influence, a mysterious but strong influence is exercised by the men and women who have strength enough, even with great-sacrifices on their part, to break the bonds in which they were kept. Let us never forget this truth: A people is what it deserves to be. If a people is in bondage, it is because it deserves no better fate, because it consists of slaves. Not the tyrant makes the slaves; but a servile people makes it easy and possible for the tyrant to reach his aim. How could it be possible to rule as a tyrant only for one week over people who are really and truly free? It would not support tyranny for one day. But the people begin to make tyrants, and, if these act as such, the people utter complaints of their own work and are cowardly enough to yield to circumstances.

Does not Multatuli [1] justly say, in his Essay on Millions:
"Tyrants; to be sure, they exist; but who render their existence possible? Their surroundings, the people. All the tyrants mentioned in history could not have existed if the people, the surroundings in which these monsters lived, had not enabled them to play their tyrant's parts from age to age. They, the people, the surroundings - the chaff, as they are called - crouched, fawned, dissembled, applauded every arbitrary deed, every despotic action of the tyrants - where an ox grazes there must be grass, and the people have always been willing to be the grass which the two-legged oxen – beasts of prey - nibbled and trod. A people, therefore, deserves the fate it has. No tyrants, no bloodsuckers could exist if the people would not suffer them, would have nothing to do with them. The People have always remained the same. When Nero set Rome on fire, the people shouted. It was the people who cried: “Crucify Jesus; set Barrabas free!" Leaders, preachers of new ideas have ever been abused and thrown at with filth by the Schmoels [2] and Judases among the people."

Before all other things it is necessary to become aware of our condition. First, we must feel the bondage in which we are kept; for no means are sought to get out of it before that is the case. That is the reason why we have, in the first place, to revolutionise the heads, so that the people understand it will not be so difficult for the ninety-eight to get rid of the two who cling to the others in order to suck up the best vital fluids and who cause the tree to pine.

Hypocrisy is a great obstacle in the way, and it puts on such attractive mask to draw the masses on the wrong track. “So much is done for the people,” that it the common saying, which becomes a pretext to lull oneself asleep. But without taking into consideration that all this is philanthropy - and this always demoralises the giver as well as the receiver (being nothing but wholesale stealing to give back in detail) and afterwards being praised as a benefactor of the human race - as soon as we begin to analyse it, it is rather insignificant while the greater part give from their abundance without denying themselves anything.

Tolstoy saw through the game, and therefore wrote: “Temperance is made much of, but in such a way that it cannot diminish drunkenness; education is made much of, but in such a way that, far from annihilating ignorance, it is increased; liberty and the constitution are made much of, but in such a way that despotism is not prevented; the fate of the working classes, but in such a way that they are not protected against slavery; Christianity, but only the official Christian faith which supports the governments instead of overthrowing them."

That is the reason why we also preach a crusade against hypocrisy - which has been called a homage to virtue, but which makes it difficult to discover the enemy in the right place. Hypocrisy has wound itself about humanity, like the climbing plant about the oak, to draw the beet sap in its embrace and to thrive at its cost.

As soon as the feeling of self-respect awakes and grows, we will no longer suffer everything; we shall begin to be men in our own circle, men who distinguish themselves by thinking for themselves.
We make ourselves free and involuntarily we shall rouse others by our deeds to endeavour with us to abolish some more tyrants.

To rule means to exercise violence, to do what he on whom the violence is practised does not like and what he who uses the violence would surely not suffer himself.

To submit means to bear, to suffer that which you do not like.

Let us therefore shout: “Down with Tyranny!” It is better not to live than to throw oneself away and be nothing in order that other people may be all. Repudiate all the tyrants of to-day, high and low.



[1] Eduard Douwes Dekker (1820 – 1887), better known by his pen name Multatuli (from Latin multa tuli, "I have suffered much"), was a Dutch writer famous for his satirical novel Max Havelaar (1860), which denounced the abuses of colonialism in the Dutch East Indies (today's Indonesia).

[2] Personaggio dal libro di Mulatuli, Minnebrieven, 1861 (Love letters).


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