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Johann Most

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Johann Most

Johann Joseph Most (February 5, 1846 – March 17, 1906) was a German-American anarchist and orator, who in the late 19th century began to advocate the use of violence to achieve revolutionary political and social change. He is best known for popularizing the strategy of "propaganda of the deed," which promoted direct action against individuals or institutions (including the use of violence) to force revolutionary change and inspire further action by others.


Most was born in Augsburg, Bavaria. He was apprenticed to a bookbinder, worked at this trade in Germany, Austria, Italy and Switzerland in 1863–68, and then became a writer of Socialist pamphlets and paragraphs, and editor of Socialist sheets in Chemnitz (Chemnitzer Freie Presse) and Vienna, both suppressed by the authorities, and of the Freie Presse in Berlin, being repeatedly arrested for his violent and cynical attacks on patriotism and conventional religion and ethics, and for his gospel of terrorism, preached in prose and in many songs such as those in his Proletarier-Liederbuch (5th ed., 1875). Some of his experiences in prison were recounted in Die Bastille am Plotzensee: Blätter aus meinem Gefängniss-Tagebuch (1876).

In 1874–78, he served as a Marxist social democratic deputy in the German Reichstag.[1] He wrote a popular summary of Karl Marx's Das Kapital. After advocating violent action, (including the use of explosive bombs) for revolutionary change, he was forced into exile, and expelled from the German Social Democratic Party. Convinced by his own experience of the futility of parliamentary action, he became an anarchist, advocating a kind of collectivist anarchism,[2] although he later embraced anarchist communism.[3] He is most accurately viewed as an insurrectionary anarchist.

He went to France but was forced to leave in 1879, and then settled in London. There he founded the "red" organ—it was printed in red—Die Freiheit, in which he expressed his delight in June 1881 over the assassination of Alexander II of Russia and for this was imprisoned for a year and a half.

Life in the United States[edit]

Encouraged by news of labor struggles and industrial disputes in the United States, Most emigrated himself, and promptly began agitating in his adopted land among other German emigrés. He resumed the publication of Die Freiheit in New York. He was imprisoned in 1886, again in 1887, and in 1902, the last time for two months for publishing after the assassination of President McKinley an editorial in which he argued that it was no crime to kill a ruler.

Most was famous for stating the concept of the Attentat: "The existing system will be quickest and most radically overthrown by the annihilation of its exponents. Therefore, massacres of the enemies of the people must be set in motion."[4] Most published a manual for preparing dynamite and other explosive materials, The Science of Revolutionary Warfare, earning him the moniker "Dynamost." A gifted orator, Most propagated these ideas throughout Marxist and anarchist circles in the United States and attracted many adherents, most notably Emma Goldman and Alexander Berkman.

Inspired by Most's theories of Attentat, Emma Goldman and Alexander Berkman, enraged by the deaths of workers during the Homestead strike, put words into action with Berkman's attempted assassination of Homestead factory manager Henry Clay Frick in 1892.

Berkman and Goldman were soon disillusioned by their mentor. Most became one of Berkman's most outspoken critics for the assassination attempt, despite, noted Goldman, having "proclaimed acts of violence from the housetops." Yet in Freiheit, Most attacked both Goldman and Berkman, implying Berkman's act was designed to arouse sympathy for Frick. Historian Alice Wexler suggests that Most's criticisms may have been inspired by jealousy of Berkman, although Wexler and others also credit Most's changing attitudes towards the effectiveness of political assassination in bringing about revolutionary change.[5]

Goldman was enraged by Most's critique, and demanded he prove his insinuations. When he refused to reply, she carried a horsewhip to his next lecture. After he refused to speak to her, she lashed him across the face, then broke the whip over her knee and threw the pieces at him.[6] She later regretted her assault, confiding to a friend, "At the age of twenty-three, one does not reason."

Later Years[edit]

Most continued to write and give speeches on the subject of revolutionary change for the remainder of his life. In 1906, while in Cincinnati, Ohio, to give a speech, he fell ill, and was diagnosed with a chronic case of erysipelas, a bacterial skin infection. In the era prior to antibiotic treatments, little could be done for his condition, which worsened, and he died a few days later.


  • Memoiren (New York, 1903).
  1. Johann Most biography at Spartacus.
  2. Text of the 1883 Pittsburgh Proclamation
  3. Johann Most, "Anarchist Communism" (1889).
  4. Wendy McElroy, "Liberty on Violence".
  5. Alice Wexler, Emma Goldman: An Intimate Life (New York: Pantheon Books, 1984).
  6. Emma Goldman, Living My Life (1931)

External inks[edit]

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