”According to an apocryphal story, Henry Kissinger/André Malraux/an unidentified journalist once asked Chinese premier Zhou Enlai about the significance of the French Revolution. Zhou reportedly replied that it was still too early to tell. Taking this story in its intended spirit, one might reasonably ask the following question: If it is too early to determine the significance of a phenomenon that had occurred a century and a half earlier, is it at all reasonable to attempt to determine the significance of one that is a mere two and a half decades old? More specifically, is it possible for historians and other social scientists writing six years after the attacks of 9/11 (when most turned their attention to the problem) to typologize and historicize the phenomenon of jihadi movements such as al-Qaeda?” ( James L. Gelvin )
For many anarchists, to proclaim the aims of violence, and even the necessity and desirability of the act was one thing, but to breach that line and actually realize it, has been the great dividing point.Although most anarchists assumed the necessity of a violent revolution to overthrow the established order, pacifist anarchists such as William Godwin, Leo Tolstoy at the end of his life, and the Dutch anarchist, Domela Nieuwenhuis, fell short of condoning armed insurrection.
Few terms have been surrounded with as much myth and misunderstanding as “anarchism.” Part of the difficulty is that there are many kinds of anarchists. Though bound by the goal of social revolution the means could be sharply different. Contrary to the stereotype,many anarchists did not object to order itself but to the oppressive forms of order imposed by the capitalist state.In the late nineteenth century, anarchists like Albert and Lucy Parsons frankly acknowledged the belief shared by other anarchists in their circle that social transformation would only come through revolution, “through bloodshed and violence.”
”We are charged with being the enemies of “Law and order,” as breeders of strife and confusion. Every conceivable bad name and evil design was imputed to us by the lovers of power and haters of freedom and equality. Even the workingmen in some instances caught the infection, and many of them joined in the capitalistic hue and cry against the anarchists. Being satisfied of ourselves that our purpose was a just one, we worked on undismayed, willing to labor and to wait for time and events to justify our cause. We began to allude to ourselves as anarchists and that name, which was at first imputed to us as a dishonor, we came to cherish and defend with pride. What’s in a name? But names sometimes express ideas, and ideas are everything.
What, then, is our offense, being anarchists? The word anarchy is derived from the two Greek words an, signifying no, or without, and arche, government; hence anarchy means no government. Consequently anarchy means a condition of society which has no king, emperor, president or ruler of any kind. In other words, anarchy is the social administration of all affairs by the people themselves; that is to say, self-government, individual liberty. Such a condition of society denies the right of majorities to rule over or dictate to minorities. Though every person in the world agree upon a certain plan and only one objects thereto, the objector would, under anarchy, be respected in his natural right to go his own way. . . .” ( Albert Parsons )
In Europe, in the late nineteenth century, anarchist violence manifested itself in two forms: peasant insurrections and urban terrorism. The first flourished in the areas where anarchism has always found its main strength, in the industrially undeveloped parts of Europe, especially Italy, and a little later Spain. Here there were traditions of brigandage and savage peasant uprisings. Anarchism appealed because anarchist doctrines were in part a protest not only against the state but against modern capitalism and the necessary disciplines which the Marxists, for example, accepted as inevitable, of industrial society.
Peasants bewildered and enraged by legal and financial regulations that seemed to rob them of their produce and that they could not understand, and small independent handcraftsmen threatened by the competition of mass production, were fertile soil for anarchist propaganda. They, rather than the industrial workers on whom the Marxists relied, formed the rank and file of the anarchist movement. One of the first acts of the various Italian and Spanish peasant insurrectionists, apart from church burning, was to burn local governmenthives, the paper chains in which the peasant was enmeshed and his indebtedness recorded.
Essentially, however, anarchism only provided a superstructure of theory for the deep seated, habitual violence of an oppressed rural population; the latter was just as evident in Ireland, where there was no anarchist propaganda at all. In such communities the bandit was often a folk hero; Bakunin adopted him as an honorary anarchist. ”Brigandage,” he wrote, ” is one of the most honored aspects of the people’s life in Russia… The brigand in Russia is the true and only revolutionary… the irreconcilable , unwearying, untameable revolutionary in deed. ”. He also spoke hopefully of what he called the childish and demonic delight of the Russian peasant in fire.
Rural anarchism, for all its atrocities, often had a certain naive innocence. Observers in Spain during the civil war in the 1930’s were touched by the simplicity, the complete faith and literalness, with which the peasants took their anarchist slogans and ran their anarchist communes.
The darkest side of anarchist violence was the urban terrorism that, while it was centered in France, swept across Europe between 1880 and the First World War and spread to the United States in the wake of European immigration. One inspiration for it was the assassination in 1881 of Czar Alexander II. Assassination became one of the facts of Russian public life. Between 1881 and 1911 the terrorists’ trophy bag included a minister of education, two ministers of the interior, a brace of generals, a prime minister, a grand duke, and, of course, a czar.Most of the Russian terrorists were not strictly anarchists but revolutionary democrats driven to isolated acts of violence by their sense of impotence in the face of czarist despotism and the inertia of the masses. Yet psychologically, they had much in common with the anarchist terrorists of Western Europe, who eagerly celebrated their successes as victory in a common cause. The latter were made desperate, paradoxically, not by the harshness of European political conditions but by their relative mildness. The coming of universal suffrage in the last quarter of the century, the growth of trade unions and parliamentary socialist parties, threatened to deprive the intransigent revolutionaries of all hope of mass support.
Even Marxists, though they continued to mutter about the coming doom of capitalism, seemed to have abandoned revolution for the ways of constitutional legality. Only the anarchists remained obdurate, and it seemed all the more vital to them to demonstrate in some dramatic fashion that the class war was not dead. It was the Anarchist International Congress of 1881 that approved the ”Propaganda of the Deed”.
” There has been an emerging theory in which the phenomenon of nineteenth century anarchist terrorism is seen to prefigure the phenomenon of contemporary terrorism; whether this is developed as a defense mechanism for the existing Liberal-Democratic model as a rectionary device, or part of a more profound anaylsis in understanding the ”pathologies” of the ”diversity” that has been imposed on society, it is clear these are threats to the existing norms of what we presently have as ”freedom” ; Islamic activists in the West demanding segreated facilties which mirrors the demands of Orthodox Jews in Israel , which demand a peeling back of the assumption of ”integration”, which may open the door to even more fragmentation.
”In a speech given last November and in an article, Professor James L. Gelvin argues most forcefully for the existence of close similarities between nineteenth century anarchist terrorism and contemporary terrorism.1 In his talk Gelvin specifies six main areas of resemblance. These include the fact that both anarchists and al-Qaeda: number one, prefer action over ideology, number two, focus single-mindedly on resistance to an intrusive alien order, three: lack programmatic goals, four: pursue violence for its own sake, five: attack the state and the entire world system of nation states and, finally, operate through decentralized, semi-autonomous cells. Gelvin goes further than noting similarities, since he actually contends that al-Qaeda–style jihadism is a kind of anarchism, an Islamic anarchism, and indicative of the reemergence of anarchism as a force in world history after an approximately sixty year absence. Understandably, Gelvin concentrates on al-Qaeda, a subject that forms part of his general area of expertise, and spends little time explaining how the anarchist terrorists fit into his paradigm.”
Whaen Gelvin refers to Islamic anarchism, he really means Islamic anarchist terrorism:
What about Gelvin’s fourth point, that Jihadists and anarchists, or better, anarchist terrorists, pursue violence for its own sake? One thinks immediately of the anarchist leader Mikhail Bakunin’s infamous statement (made even before he became an anarchist) that the ‘‘urge to destroy is also a creative urge.’’ One also thinks of al-Qaeda’s attack on the twin towers, which had only a roundabout connection with Bin Laden’s stated goal of getting the Zionists and Crusaders out of Islamic lands. 9=11 seemed to be more a piece of violent, symbolic theater, than concrete policy.
Nonetheless, similarities exist in terms of the worldwide scope and the styles of violence employed by al-Qaeda and the anarchists. In the early twentieth century, anarchist terrorism appeared to be a universal threat, like al-Qaeda today. Stunning assassinations and bombings took place in previously untouched or recently untouched areas, such as North and South America, and groups unaffiliated to anarchism, such as the terrorists of India, were co-opted into the Black International by the reports of alarmed and sensation-seeking journalists.
The only continent that avoided some act of real or alleged anarchist ‘‘propaganda by the deed’’ was Antarctica. Both al-Qaeda and the anarchists have been prone to select highly symbolic targets, be they the center of America’s war making power, the Pentagon, or, in 1893, that great den of the bourgeoisie, the Barcelona opera house. The symbolism of bombing the latter was enhanced by the fact that at the time it was performing ‘‘William Tell,’’ an opera about assassination in the name of achieving liberty….Another point of possible similarity regards acts of suicidal terrorism. Although they did not push it to the extremes of al-Qaeda, the anarchists carried out a number of suicide bombings and were often fatalistically resigned to dying after committing their violent deeds. This may be significant because suicide bombing only occurred or occurs in the anarchist and the most recent waves of terrorism. Probably the first suicide bombing of the modern era was carried out in March of 1881 by a Russian nihilist (although the nihilists were not anarchists) when he consciously gave up his life in order to ensure that his bomb got close enough to assassinate the Russian Tsar. The assassin stood one meter from his target and the ensuing explosion killed both assassin and victim. Emile Florion, the first French propagandist by the deed, tried to commit suicide after he had fired at a random bourgeoisie (but perhaps Florion is not such a good example since he was mentally unstable). Alexander Berkman, a Russian-Jewish immigrant to America, was planning to die by his own hand after he killed the ruthless, strike-breaking manager of the Carnegie steel works.