… and occasionally ride camels. Nearly all exponents of anarchism, for example, have used the term to refer to a natural state of society in which people are not governed by submission to humanmade laws or to any external authority. They are also fundamentally in agreement over the belief that anarchism is above all a moral doctrine concerned with maximizing the personal freedom of individuals in society. The tendency has been to demonize all anarchists rather than to provide a balanced explanation of a genuinely complex and subtle historical phenomenon. Still, intellect might win the debating prize, but dynamite has put fans in the seats, though terrorism is not one of the normative features of the doctrine. The fact is that terrorism has never been central to anarchist thinking and actions and the destructive and chaotic side of anarchism was only briefly and superficially ever a dominant feature of the movement. ….
In the eighteen nineties in Paris, the swan song of la Belle Epoque, terror was the rule of thumb and not the rule of law. Auguste Vaillant, and Francois Ravachol, the murderer of Prime Minister Carnot, defiantly received the French guillotine experience. Vaillant cried ” Death to bourgeois society and long live anarchy!” Ravochon echoed the same refrain and walked to the guillotine singing an obscene and blasphemous song
An extraordinary cult imediately grew up around the latter, a former grave robber and murderer. His name was adopted as a verb- ”ravacholiser” , meaning to assassinate. The cafe in which he had been arrested was blown up and the proprietor killed. Songs were written about him. But the crispest comment on Ravachol was provided by the anarchist journal ” La Revolte” ; his explosions had, it said, ”to some extent rehabilitated the reputation of dynamite , which previous attempts had somewhat diminished.’
Gaie Paris. The greatest panic of all however, was caused by an act of such apparently casual terrorism that it seemed that no one and no place were safe. The cafe Terminus, at the Gare St. Lazare in Paris, was no resort of the rich or the powerful. One evening a week after the execution of Vaillant a bomb exploded, killing one of the customers and wounding a number of others. The murderer, young Emile Henry, declared that the bomb was in revenge for Vaillant’s death and regretted that more had not been killed.
Pale and fine featured, the son of an old revolutionary, Henry, who admitted to several other bomb outrages, was better educated than most anarchist terrorists. A brilliant former pupil of France’s chief school of science, the Ecole Polytechnique, he had the arrogance of intellectual pride , and there was a cold ruthless logic in his fanaticism. ”There are no innocents” , was his justification of his deed, a remark that may or may not seem less outrageous when we realize that it is logically equivalent to the more familiar claim that ”we are all guilty”.
The future French premier Georges Clemenceau witnessed Henry on the scaffold. ” like a vision of Christ, his face terribly pale but implacable. His ghastly expression hypnotized me. I could look at nothing else. He looked around, and then, opening his mouth horribly, forced convulsively out in a hoarse but strong voice, ‘Courage comrades, Long Live Anarchy!”
Artists and writers were sometimes among the apologists for anarchist outrages, finding in them a more emphatic and heroic expression of their own hatred for bourgeois society, or perhaps seeing in violence’s sake a kind of echo of the fashionable aesthetic creed of art for art’s sake. ”What do the victims matter,” the French poet Laurent Tailhade was quoted as saying, ”provided the gesture is fine?” His comment when he himself subsequently lost an eye in an anarchist explosion is not recorded.
Executed anarchists like Ravachol, Vaillant and Henry were celebrated as sacrificial Christs. Among the artists and men of letters who called themselves anarchists or subscribed to the anarchist journal ”La Revolte” were Alphonse Daudet, Anatole France, the poet Stephane Mallarme, Oscar Wilde, and the painter Camille Pissarro
Anarchist terrorism left its mark, too, in the novels of the period, in Emile Zola’s ”Germinal” , Henry James’s ”The Princess Casamassima”, and Joseph Conrad’s ”The Secret Agent” . The last catches with superb irony the claustrophobic squalor and the brutal farce of anarchist terrorism; it is entirely plausible that the instigator of the bomb outrage on which the plot hinges should be a reactionary foreign embassy that wants to discredit the revolutionary emigrant groups in London. In an unforgettable minor character Conrad epitomizes the barrenness and futility of one kind of nihilist ”freedom” ; no one dare to approach him too closelt, because he carries a bomb in his pocket at all times and will not hesistate to blow up both himself and his antagonists; his life is devoted to perfecting the bombs that insulate him from the world. One current theory gaining a lot of traction is to has been to link classic anarchism to Taliban ”terrorology” despite some compelling contradictions and irreconcilable flaws, the mechanism of demonization is a well oiled and equally ”reactive” condition as that impugned to their subject
”The preference of the leaders and adherents of al-Qaeda for action over ideology, their single-minded focus on resistance, their lack of programmatic goals, their pursuit of violence for its own sake, their use of a highly decentralized structure built upon semi-autonomous cells—all these factors align al-Qaeda with a type of movement that historically has had nothing to do with Islam at all: anarchism. Like other anarchist movements, al-Qaeda is reactive. It focuses solely on resisting what it considers to be an intrusive alien order and preserving a culture and lifestyle and the homeland of that culture and lifestyle its members believe to be under attack. And unlike other movements whose discourse al-Qaeda shares, al-Qaeda does not operate as a cog within the international state and economic systems. Rather, it wars on those systems” ( James L. Gelvin)
” Others also drew the comparison between al-Qaeda and anarchist organizations, particularly those anarchist organizations that emerged during the period between 1880 and 1920, the so-called heyday of anarchism: The Economist (“For Jihadist, Read Anarchist”); Graham Stewart for the Times of London (“Al-Qaeda, Victorian Style”); Niall Ferguson (who refers to al-Qaeda-style jihadism as “Islamo-nihilism…in the Nechaevan tradition”); John Gray (“The strategy [of al-Qaeda] is the same [as Conrad’s
Secret Agent]—to remake the world by spectacular acts of terror.”); ….” And so on. Anarchism has had a collection of ”greatest hits” to be sure but the connection between black clad violence perpetrated by the proverbial black-clad, bearded, bomb-wielding nineteenth-century anarchist of legend with the proverbial white-clad, bearded, bomb-wielding al-Qaeda operative of present, is somewhat fragmentary though thoroughly appealing to a gullible public and book publishers
”In the place of the evil nation state—and here is where it seems to me al-Qaeda diverges from anarchism—Bin Laden and his followers want the establishment of an enormous Islamic Caliphate, a millenarian kingdom of justice on earth where sharia law will be applied absolutely and that would include all areas which have, or have had in the past, an Islamic population.
By contrast, most anarchists were not interested in religion, which they saw as oppressive. Even if anarchism itself possesses aspects of a secular religion, which it does, the anarchists have never suggested the creation of such a superstate. The Islamic superstate, moreover, implies the existence of a single ruler or caliph, which would be doubly anathema to the individual freedom-loving anarchists. The anarchists, at least according to the great anarchist theorist Peter Kropotkin, propose the devolution of states into their component parts so that the earth would become covered by a vast ‘‘interwoven network,’’ or federation, of communities and local groups of producers and consumers linked together voluntarily. This fragmentation of authority seems at the polar opposite from the grand Islamic caliphate.”
But, to arrive at an an aesthetic of anarchism as some have tried to do, is simply not possible, given the multitude of contributing factors that effect its composition and change its form. The closest would be the anti-art art; pastiche and fragmented, fringe, and with an exhibitionist desire to shock and blitz the viewer out of his compliant acceptance of the reality that one sees. Even then, painters like Bosch did not paint to soothe but to hammer home the evil in man’s nature and its terrible consequences.
If anything, as an aesthetic, Anarchism is linked to the growth of the middle class which led to diversity and insecurity in artistic taste and production. Bouguereau on the one hand and Manet on the other are indicative of the onset of schizophrenia, and worse still; of the onset of a much more intense commercialization of art than any previous century had known. This avant-garde proved as exploitable as the academicians had been. The growth therefore, of a large market for art helped to break the imposition of taste by the patron-connoisseur, which was one of the reasons for this aesthetic of anarchy in the arts.
The development of art since the time Proudhon elaborated his first treatises, or vitriolic polemics of anarchism is highly correlated; a creation of the cult of the artist, and anarchist, as a wayward, misunderstood, yet dedicated genius. Men, for the most part, exiled from society by the originality of their ideas and techniques. Hence the endless pursuit of novelty, even if the so-called originality is flat footed, dull and boring. There was not much difference between Claes Oldenburg and his simulated ironing boards and three way plugs and hamburgers to the gauchiste chic of the Black Bloc and their scripted and predictable tactics. Superficial shock value painted over a foundation of boredom. Banal politics, agit-pol as devoid of meaningful content as the most tedious forms of salon painting was centuries ago
The aesthetic tension is derived from the interplay between the dystopic and the utopic; and all the dramatic possibilities in between. In terms of develpment of anarchism as a coherent, bubbly entity capable of moving minds en masse, …. its a bit of a dead letter office, but the artistic results bear testimony to a not uninteresting ” pathology of the aesthetic will” that is part Goth horror a la Henry Fuseli and part alienating technology that incorporates fantasy, private fetish and isolation at its best as long as the party doesn’t get too out of hand. John Ruskin’s assertion that the beginning of art consists in making people beautiful has been inverted by the Bakunin’s idea of inverting Hegel’s thinking to expose, if the term can be used, an ”aesthetic” of pessimism and immorality which is a psychic disease, but a necessary precondition to a type of messianic deliverance promised by an almost inevitable destiny of anarchism.
In this sense those clever members of Mensa over at the American Enterprise Institute have tried to kill two birds with one grain of poisoned seed. Through willing hacks like Gelvin, they can attack a plausibly and ostensibly legitimate target like Al-Qaeda on the basis of terrorism, link it to a broader and more vicious contextual attack on Islam as a whole and neatly deliver the knockout punch with a broadside on the left side of the left through an implied association with anarchism in its worst and most public forms such as the hooliganism of the Black Bloc, and at the same time uphold the virtues of a fragmenting liberal democratic model built on Carlyle, John Stuart Mill and others. It shows that even the neo-cons can take an aesthetic delight in mystical subjectivism. Ayaan Hirsi Ali can be paraded on the fashion runway of this form of reactionism, show a little leg, and give birth to its own proper series of fever based stories dealing with the abnormalities of man. It is indeed a curious paradox that people of the most highly evolved scientific and mechanical age can take such delight in the psychic abnormalities and morbidity they perceive to see. This real evil is like in the David Lynch movie ”Blue Velvet” where there is a strong wish to deny the existence of people like Frank who are irrational, violent and cruel. Whether ”Frank” is more likely to be wearing a suit at a conservative think tank or flipping the peace sign in Black Bloc attire is open to speculation, but in both cases there may be a profound bubbling anger that is still on its farewell tour of duty.
The trial of those arrested at the G20 Summit in Toronto, dubbed the G17 is also instructive; a Proudhon foresaw in his time, Anarchism will a movement of the white middle class. Effectively, those who want power against those who have power. From Christie Blatchford in the Globe and Mail, disrupting the G20 is almost perceived as an activity, like Soccer, Snowmobiling, Alpine Skiing and the same attitude of entitlement that is so disdained in their perceived antagonists; a long way from a stirring betrayal of Emma Lazarus’s inscription on the Statue of Liberty or the call for empowerment of the truly downtrodden from Martin Luther King:
”From the glimpses gained on the video screen and hallway conversations, the G17 for the most part appear to be the middle-class progeny of the middle-aged urban professional class of this country. They are, in other words, reasonably affluent, lucky, mostly white kids with good teeth.
Some are university students. Some still drive their parents’ cars. Some of their parents have cottages.
Some of their friends in the courtroom are cut from that delicate yet entitled cloth so familiar to teachers who work in large Canadian cities.
Two young women, for instance, were aghast when a Toronto Star reporter wouldn’t give up his seat so they could sit together. “I’ve got to do my job,” the reporter said. “Your job? Your job?” one of the young women said. “There are people here whose friends are in jail!”
She was actually hyperventilating, and red in the face, she was so fraught.
Fortunately, someone else did give up their seat, and the two women were able to sit together, though frankly, it looked as though what they really wanted was a room; they were constantly stroking each other’s hair, doing deep-breathing and clucking softly.
Imagine: In this country, a kid rousted in a riot and facing a mischief charge is deemed a freedom fighter akin to Nelson Mandela.
I actually spoke to one of the parents of one of the accused people. He had already visited his daughter in custody, he said; the guards were nice and so co-operative one had actually called him when there was a cancellation so he could get on the visitor’s list. His kid was being well fed and cared for, he said.” ( Blatchford )