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Jo Labadie and His Gift to Michigan

A Legacy for the Masses





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Later Relations to Labor Organizations

  Leon Czolgosz (1873-1901)

The Water Board Incident

  Bubbling Waters
  The Labadie Print Shop
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  Agnes Inglis (1870-1952)
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Special Collections Library
University of Michigan
Ann Arbor

In the early 1880s Labadie's constant quest for truth and social justice brought him to ask Benjamin Tucker, editor of the anarchist journal Liberty, about some practical elements of conducting an anarchist society. Labadie was at this time a member of the Socialist Labor Party, a longtime member of the Detroit Typographical Union, and still involved with the Knights of Labor. In seemingly direct contradiction to his earlier "communistic" philosophy of socialism, Labadie's anarchism, like Tucker"s, was individualist in nature, typically American, in the tradition of Henry David Thoreau, Ralph Waldo Emerson and Thomas Paine. Individualist anarchists asserted that people should be sovereign and free to live their lives as they choose, as long as they do not infringe on the rights of any other individual. They see all government, including majority rule and state socialism, as tyranny over the individual. This theory extended to the right of the individual to own the fruits of his own labor, which meant individualist anarchists were proponents of private property and free trade. Anarchists such as Labadie were opposed to all laws that created an unfair economic disadvantage to people through tariffs, patents, copyrights, land monopolies, and ownership of natural resources.

Individualist anarchists differed sharply from the communist anarchism of Peter Kropotkin, Johann Most, and Emma Goldman, who promoted a society without government, but based on collective good and abolition of private property. They also varied from the anarcho-syndicalism of August Spies and Albert Parsons, who advocated revolutionary trade unionism. Notwithstanding ideological and theoretical distinctions, Labadie admired these other radicals, even publicly defending them.

Due to Labadie's famous affable nature, the ease with which he made friends, his optimistic outlook, his dapper appearance, and his nonviolent convictions, he became known as "the Gentle Anarchist." Few newspaper articles about him failed to mention these qualities, which perhaps caused the authorities to take him less seriously or to view him as less of a threat to the public welfare. Although his belief was that anarchism would eventually be accepted without a violent revolution, which added to his popularity among non-anarchists, Labadie was not beyond displaying antagonism and spewing fierce rhetoric when his sense of justice was violated, as during the Haymarket trial. Labadie, always in favor of working people (he was one of them, after all), saw merit in trade unions and remained active in them for most of his life. Although he disagreed with many people, including his closest friends, he was a constant advocate of free speech and never wavered in his fight to protect it.





"...however little your Anarchism or method of propaganda may have appealed to me, I never could have considered you a backslider."

Emma Goldman to Jo Labadie, August 10, 1911