A Genealogical Contribution to the Visual Economy of Early American Radicals


Columbia’s Unwelcome Guests
Columbia’s Unwelcome Guests

This essay is part of a larger project that analyzes the rhetorical methods found in late 19th and early 20th Century American newspapers used to mobilize support against the various radical groups then agitating and organizing for a revolutionary movement. Before I begin my analysis of the image, however, let me quickly define what exactly I mean by the term “radicals”. My use of this word is meant to include Socialists and Anarchists. The first term refers to parties explicit in their Marxist orientation, such at the Socialist Labor Party of America and includes organized by Daniel De Leon. The definition of anarchism I intend is more complicated, and best understood by reading Michael Schmidt and Lucien van der

Walt’s book Black Flame: The Revolutionary Class Politics of Anarchism and Syndicalism. Putting their several introductory chapters into a few sentence, their classification of the “broad anarchist tradition” rejects the notion that individualists, like Max Stirner, libertarians opposed to class struggle, like Leo Tolstoy or economic mutualists, like P.J. Proudhon, are anarchists. According to the authors, anarchist thought stems from the writings of Mikael Bakunin and Pyotr Kropotkin and as such can be tenuously classified with Socialists despite their antagonistic history due to a similar criticism of capitalism, equal avowal of the desirability of socialism/communism, and the need for organized struggle to achieve it. The best American example in this time period of such an organization would be the Industrial Workers of the World.

The image I’ve chosen to dissect is titled “Columbia’s Unwelcome Guests”. It was illustrated by Frank Beard for Judge magazine and published on February 7th, 1885. ”Judge…”, according to the Finding Aid to the Judge Magazine Illustration Collection, at the Delaware Art Museum: “…allied with the Republican Party and supported the candidacy of William McKinley largely through the cartoons of leading cartoonist Grant Hamilton. Circulation for Judge was about 85,000 in the 1890s” (Delaware). Given that the United Stated population at this period was around sixty‐two million, that the magazine was only distributed in the east coast and that as is the case with magazines today, it is un likely that their subscribers were the sole viewers of content and thus the actual number of people presumed to be coming into contact with the magazine should be considered higher. The number of viewers could easily be two to ten times their circulation numbers. However large

the viewership, the time length of Beard’s image would likely be short lived, surviving only as long as the owner of the magazine would keep it. The 16‐page magazine was printed weekly on letter size paper. Furthermore, Judge did not have a readership so much as a viewership due to the fact that the magazine was composed solely of cartoon images. Whether or not this is due to marketing considerations for the large but diminishing amount of illiterate people and immigrants with little to no knowledge of English is an unanswerable consideration, however this does indicate that the magazine did not require the same intellectual foreknowledge as Harpers Weekly and thus was more widely accessible to illiterate or semi‐literate audiences. What is clear, however, is that the magazines telos. The printed images in Judge were not just light‐hearted, humorous takes on current events, but the dissemination of specific associations and ideas that work to normalize a particular perspective within the reader and thus naturalize response to unfolding political events.

While assessing the effect that caricature had on the popular political conscious in America, Donald Dewey quotes the historian Charles Press, who states that: “the political cartoon has always been an aesthetic achievement only by accident. Its purpose is propaganda, not art” (Dewey 9). That such anti‐radical/anti‐ immigrant propaganda as Beard’s is being published at the time relates to the historical immigration of millions into America from Europe as well as the growing number and intensity of conflicts between Capital and Labor. Interestingly enough, this cartoon was published a year prior to the Haymarket Incident in Chicago, which was the first time the use of explosives occurred in a conflict between workers and

police. The anxiety expressed by this Republican/Right leaning magazines image is thus that the tactics of attendats and propaganda by the deed used by European radicals would soon be used in America.

Moving from the historical context of the images publication to the image itself, it becomes evident that there are several manners in which it seeks to legitimize the American government’s exceptional treatment of foreign‐born radicals as a means of preserving the status quo of liberal capitalism. Identifying and classifying these ideologies illuminates a part of the process as to how these immigrants were allowed to have a biological existence, but at points where their political life conflict with the interests of the State or Capital then they have reduced or no legal rights. Logos and mythos, logic and myth, combine in this image to form a meme, that continues to this day and is still used to delegitimize radical praxis, wherein exclusionary, repressive and oppressive practices are recuperated within purportedly pluralistic government. By wrestling with the slanders, contemporary radicals would be able to better present themselves to those that aren’t already involved in the movement.

The radicals trying to enter Liberty Hall are identifiable as criminals not only due the words inscribed upon them, the objects they hold, the knives, guns and dynamite that they possess but also due to their facial features. In the time period prior to this images publication the now discredited scientific theories of the Italian physiognomist Cesare Lombroso held sway within the public imagination and law enforcement. The definitive corpus of Lombroso’s work was to determine the traits

of social undesirables such that those who fell within these categories would be immediately discernable to police, who might mistake them for “normal” and law‐ abiding human beings. Lombroso not only classified the facial features of Italians that were prostitutes, thieves and brigands, but also of political criminals. Using the portraits of prominent in the 1848 French Revolution, Lombroso determined the facial features of those prone to insurrection and shortly after the Haymarket events, Lombroso even wrote an essay on the incident called Illustrative Studies in Criminal Anthropology, wherein he states that it is not so much the fault of the Chicago anarchists themselves for their actions, but their inheritance of “characters common to criminals and to the insane…” (Lombroso). Within this context, it is important to note that the faces of the anarchists in Beards illustration bear the atavistic stigmata of criminals and the insane according the physiognomy outlined by Lombroso. The foremost figure has a large, prominent chin, and high cheekbones – all the traits of the “born criminal”, while the pointed nose, saucer‐like ears and the beady eyes of the Nihilist are the qualities that Lombroso associates with the insane. By using this pseudo‐scientific discourse, also used by Joseph Conrad in his description of anarchists in his book The Secret Agent, the radicals claims for political agency are shown to be the claims of those that are devolved or mentally deranged. It is worth noting that this meme did not originate in the American context with Lombroso, but has resonances in Dr. Benjamin Rush, the founder of American psychiatry who discovered a mental imbalance called “anarchia”, which was characterized by an excessive desire for liberty.

Moving from the facial qualities of the undesirables to the stances of the three radicals in the foreground it is worth noting that all are walking slouched over with their body close to the ground. This gives the appearance not only that they are stalking, in this case Law and Order, but also that they’ve some difficulty in standing upright. They are thus shown to be closer to animals than civilized people, who no longer need to hunt with their hands. This image resonates with depictions of Blacks and Irish as monkeys in Judge and similar illustrated magazines such as Puck. Furthermore the contemporary associations given to the term upright, such as in someone being morally upright, apply and thus further relate these people with blackguards. Continuing to examine their physical features, it becomes evident that it is not just their criminal faces and stances that show them to be associated with darkness, baseness and badness.

All of the faces of the foreign born are all darkened or appear dirty. This quality, just as the French perceived Ali in Ali, Fear Eats the Soul, is in keeping with conceptual hierarchies of a nationalism that views foreigners as undeserving of equal treatment due to some essential difference. This aspect of the illustration becomes particularly noteworthy when one points out that their facial shading is incongruent with the illustrations light source. The sun is somewhere near midday to the bottom right hand corner of the painting, and even though the four group of men standing center right and the two men hutched over closest to them should all have their faces lit up, they are not. Furthermore, their positionality shows those closest to Liberty as having their backs to the light. Liberty, on the other hand, is a radiant as she faces the light. Thus while darkness, taken to be barbarism, ignorance

and arbitrary actions is a defining characteristic of the anarchists depicted, light, viewed as Enlightenment, Intelligence and Just Law, prominently defines their opponent. This allegorical element of the picture is not exceptional, as the whole illustration is an allegory.

Viewing the allegorical image from its narrative beginning we see the radicals swimming in the background, emerging from the sewers of Russia, Germany and Italy to cross the Atlantic Ocean and entering into the United States through . The historical fact that these immigrants brought over to fill factories and began fighting for less exploitative working conditions is thus transmogrified into a situation where they make up the refuse, the trash, the shit, the unwanted, the undesirable of these countries. They are like sewer rats that spread disease, the disease of Socialism, Nihilism, Anarchism and Communism, and they are just as dangerous as the rats that spread the Black Plague. As such all of the associations with trash, shit and rodents should apply these people. They, like trash, should be thrown out and not thought about. They smell and are unsanitary, their lives are not worth consideration, they must be repelled, chased back into the darkness, or even killed to stop the spread of social disease. The reification of this class of people is similar to that as outlined within Edward Said’s book Orientalism, but as the physical and historical context of people is changed, the political praxis is altered as well. Columbia’s placement with the dogs at the border to the U.S. is thus notification that as there is no metaphysical barrier keeping the foreign radicals from crossing the border, patriotic Americans need to be on guard for those disseminating seditious and rebellious ideas. The foreigners must be watched and

potentially disciplined, as there are elements within them that are dangerous to the conservation of the status quo.

This becomes evident when recognizing that the incarnation of Law and Order in the form of the two dogs keeping the Radicals at bay works to mystify the material political relations. Police, Order and the court system, Law, are shown to be mere symbols and unrelated to a specific economic system or the people which benefit by such an order. The allegorical form of the cartoon thus works to hide the fact that: “In all societies based on a social division of labor, the class or bloc of classes that controls the surplus value needs society‐wide help to legitimate the means by which it extracts it and to repress those who refuse to go along” (Ollman 201). By excising this material element of the depicted socio‐economic conflict, the presentation of actors in combat merely a furthers the comprehending of the historical situation as a metaphysical battle between Order and Chaos, Good and Evil, Liberty and Radicalism. All of this is accomplished by the mystifying nature of the cartoon allegory. While writing specifically about Daumier’s cartoons during periods of social conflicts that would end in multiple French revolutions, conceptual historian Reinhart Koselleck’s presents an insight into the nature of Daumier’s art that is equally applicable to this allegorical caricature. Speaking of the universality within the works of Daumier, Koselleck writes that: “Enduring symbols become historicized, historical signals symbolized. What is figuratively held together on one level creates a provocative, incongruous element in the picture (271)”. Thus in the process of genuine history becoming myth, myth then becomes genuine history. This allegory, then hides the fact that the more than 37 million people that

immigrated to the United States between 1840 and 1917 were not part of some invasion to destroy the then ruling government but were encouraged to migrate on behalf of industrialists in need of more labor power. The vices associated with the foreigners, such as having a poor toilet, and the violent aspirations of some to overthrow capitalism, while stemming for a class basis, become essentialized as qualities inherent to people from a specific place.

Speaking on the power of mystification in The Dialectics of Seeing, aesthetician and philosopher Susan Buck‐Morrs examines the analysis of mythic consciousness in Benjamin’s Arcades Project, limns the philosophy of historical experience and concludes that “Myths give answers to why the world it as it is when an empirical cause and effect cannot be seen, or when it cannot be remembered.” I would add to her statement that those that seek to propagate myths about historical situations, such as the one being discussed here, seek to impart an ahistorical paradigm to the viewer for particular purposes. The rhetorical impact of such framing is to benefit the ruling class such that people believe that those contesting the legitimacy of government are simply criminals, crazies and barbarians who are the sworn enemies of all that is Good. The attitude in this illustration is not without historical effect. With the nationalist/capitalist discourse tied to Columbia, Liberty Hall and the dogs of Law and Order and the emphasis of the “foreignness” of the populist radical movement, typical occurrences not particular to radical movements but to the labor movement as a whole, such as strikes and meetings to educate, agitate and organize the workers, are not only cast as emerging from non‐ Americans, but concomitantly as being harmful to Americans. This harm to

American would be equated with strikes leading to stops in production that could lead to fuel, food or other supply shortages and the owners of production insisting via their media outlets that the impetus for such actions stemmed from foreign agitators. The benefits of such a framing of people’s demands for better working conditions and increased pay has several consequences. As a force that is construed to be “anti‐American”, any action that disrupts normal business can thus justify, within limit, the use of the police, paramilitary, private military and military means to end strikes. Furthermore, the purportedly foreign nature of such sentiments for economic democracy could be used to increase levels of exclusion and repression by presenting groups engaged in class warfare as the direct or indirect puppets of foreign governments.

It is of the utmost importance to recognize that these rhetorical aspects of Beard’s allegorical caricature are not merely on the plane of conflicting sentiments with various publications with different positions of immigrations and capitalism, or on the realm of possibility, but that it relates to actual events. Analyzing the historical record it is worth nothing that when historians weight in on the conflicts between Capitalists and Radical elements in the United States, the accord is always given to the fact that the United States had one of the most violent labor histories at that time period. Since the time of this images publication to the first national strike of July 14th 1877, and even after, the number of laborers killed by Federal Troops, National Guardsmen, militias and private detective agencies such as the Pinkertons far outnumbers those killed by radical activists. The assassinations of influential people such as Joe Hill, Frank Little and Harry Sims and massacres at places such as

Thibodaux, Bay View, Haymarket, Lattimer, Ludlow, and the West‐Virginia Mine War are just a small sampling of the violence enacted upon those workers seeking to better their pay or working conditions. While there a few violent events at the initiation of radicals would later transpire, the sensational news stories in the yellow papers combined with images such as Beard’s vastly overrepresented the violence of some radicals and underrepresented their actual presence. The message circulated within this image amongst the populace, and especially among the political parties representing the capitalists leadership image is thus that workers should not be allowed to pursue their own agency, which is construed as alien to native‐born Americans, foreigners are exposing them to ideas that might exacerbate conflict and such sentiments need to be contained.

In this image, where class antagonisms are transmogrified into conflict between good and evil, truth and falsity, sane and insane, legality and criminality, the highest aspirations of society and it’s basest depravities, evolution and devolution, indeed: of civilization and barbarism it becomes clear the fear that the subscribers to Judge had of the forceful overturning these binary constructions. And at this point it is worth noting that Beard’s cartoon is a clear artistic opposition to what Walter Benjamin defined as the “wish image”. Whereas the wish image was that which emerged from workers utopian urge for a classless society based upon the potentialities present within the industrial revolution, it is this contrary, nightmare image that incarnates the need to accept inequity as inevitable and illustrate the desire to combat economic imbalances as pathological. Incorporating another concept of Benjamin’s into the analysis and presenting this particular

illustration as a dialectical image, we can see in the illustration not only the brief history of the radical movement in the United States previously described, but also a glimpse of the future.

As American manufacturers were forced to deal with radical and labor movements that managed to get some, if comparatively little, concessions after a long period of unencumbered growth due to the destruction of production sites in World War Two, they were forced to move their sites of production overseas to places where class conflict, human rights and legality wasn’t so much of a problem. They thus searched for and found foreign governments that would act as satraps for the United States business interests. During this process and with the collapse of the Soviet Union, they created a space wherein they lost their ability to effectively mobilize nationalistic sentiments against American radicals in the same manner. In fact they’ve opened up a space that encourages a potentially radical development. While such groups have been several steps behind the increasingly fast movement of capital, as more people become disillusioned with the myth of universal possibility for prosperity in America spaces for reorganization emerge. As this happens, due to gradual disillusion with the government, it is worth noting that similar motifs will again emerge in the press, as they are starting to now within certain circles.

Not all of the motifs can be the same, however. It is now impossible for facial features to be legitimately used to illustrate the undesirableness of a political philosophy and the xenophobia propagated within Beard’s caricature is no longer

applicable. The only form that’s left in this image for use by such groups is then caricature itself. It is here worth noting that this image isn’t atypical of artistic production created in the interest of capitalists, conservatives or counter‐ revolutionaries. As Slavoj Zizek notes in his book First as Tragedy, Then As Farce:

Enemy propaganda against radical emancipatory politics is by definition cynical – not in the simple sense of not believing its own words, but at a much more basic level: It is cynical precisely insofar as it does believe its own words, since its message is a resigned conviction that the world we live in, even if not the best of all possible worlds, is the least bad, such that radical change will only make things worse.

In the terms of Engels, one might paraphrase the above by saying that the only thing that artists connected with anti‐radical movements can do in combating such a humanistic tendency is to negate their vision rather than affirming their own as superior. For evidence of this in the literary world, one can see that the great propagandas of capitalism are dystopias or exceptional stories rather than positive portraits of widespread potentials existing within capitalism. Contemporary mainstream media television broadcasting that claims to be news outlets can only make comments lacking any depth or historical insight about modern radicals contesting capitalism. By becoming aware of the effects that representation has had on domestic American radical groups they can, perhaps work to counteract the press given to them in the manner similar to the way in which contemporary religious groups fight against what they construe as hate speech. As such Beard’s image that negates the aspirations of workers and leads to the aforementioned political practices, when it is itself negated becomes an important image in the development of alternatives to Capitalism.


Buck‐Morrs, Susan. The Dialectics of Seeing.

Dewey, Donald. The Art of Ill Will

Delaware Art Museum. “Judge Magazine.”

http://www.delart.org/collections/HFS_library/finding_aids/JudgeMagazine.htm# Biography

Koselleck, Reinhart. The Practice of Conceptual History: Timing History, Spacing Concepts

Lombroso, Casear. “The Phisiognomy of the Anarchists: Illustrative Studies In Criminal Anthropology” http://www.spunk.org/texts/humour/sp001494/physiog.html

Ollman, Bertell. Dance of the Dialectic.