Are islamic extremists like the anarchists?
Summary: Today’s violence from islamic extremists has many similarities to the anarchists of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Using standard police and intelligence methods, Western governmens defeated the anarchists without massive restrictions on civil liberties and military operations. Post-9/11 history suggests that we can successfully cope with Islamic extremists using similar methods.
- Then and now: “For jihadist, read anarchist”
- About the anarchist violence
- List of attacks by anarchists
- For more information
The violence of anarchists is largely forgotten, as seen in this quote from Wikipedia:
Some revolutionaries of this time encouraged acts of violence such as sabotage or even assassination of heads of state to further spark a revolution. However, these actions were regarded by many anarchists as counter-productive or ineffective.
This is grossly misleading, the only mention of violence in the Wikipedia entry. A more accurate historical viewpoint is this comment by Stefan at Matthew Yglesias blog:
Consider that over about a 20 year period, anarchists assassinated, among others, Russian Czar Alexander II (1881), French president Sadi Carnot (1894), Spanish prime minister Canovas (1897), Elizabeth of Bavaria (Empress Consort of Austria-Hungary) (1898), King Umberto I of Italy (1900), and US president William McKinley (1901). If Islamist terrorists had managed to murder an equivalent number of Western heads of state, we’d all be living under martial law by now.
Police work and international coordination supressed the anarchist extremists. Many were from Italy, but we never bombed Italy.
(2) Then and now: “For jihadist, read anarchist”
(a) “For jihadist, read anarchist“, The Economist, 10 December 2009 — Opening:
BOMBS, beards and backpacks: these are the distinguishing marks, at least in the popular imagination, of the terror-mongers who either incite or carry out the explosions that periodically rock the cities of the western world.
A century or so ago it was not so different: bombs, beards and fizzing fuses. The worries generated by the 2 waves of terror, the responses to them and some of their other characteristics are also similar. The spasm of anarchist violence that was at its most convulsive in the 1880s and 1890s was felt, if indirectly, in every continent. It claimed hundreds of lives, including those of several heads of government, aroused widespread fear and prompted quantities of new laws and restrictions. But it passed. Jihadism is certainly not a lineal descendant of anarchism: far from it. Even so, the parallels between the anarchist bombings of the 19th century and the Islamist ones of today may be instructive.
(b) “Cloaks, Daggers and Dynamite“, Matt Carr, History Today, December 2007 — Subscription only. “A century ago international anarchists were causing public outrage and panic with their terror tactics. Matt Carr considers the parallels with Al-Qaeda today.”
It has become something of a cliché to claim that the world has changed irrevocably in response to the unique and deadly threat of al-Qaeda. But if the current crisis appears unprecedented, its essential parameters are not entirely new. The spectre of violent nihilists intent on the destruction of civilization and established order; a hidden hand conducting acts of mayhem across national frontiers; draconian anti-terrorist legislation and the official use of torture – all these formed part of the ‘anarchist terror’ that began in the last decades of the nineteenth century and ended with the First World War. In these years anarchism became indelibly associated with violence in the popular imagination on both sides of the Atlantic, as presidents and royalty, policemen and ordinary civilians were shot, stabbed and blown up.
President Carnot of France (1894), King Umberto of Italy (1900) and US President McKinley (1901) were among the ‘illustrious corpses’ claimed by anarchist assassins. Anarchist ‘infernal machines’ exploded in cafés, restaurants, opera houses and even the French Chamber of Deputies. The scale of violence was magnified by sensationalist press coverage that at times reduced whole cities to a state of psychosis. The ‘anarchist terror’ constituted the world’s first international terrorist emergency.
On the surface, there is no obvious connection between the Islamic holy war pursued by Osama bin Laden and a secular ideology that regarded organized religion as a reactionary superstition. It is true that transnational jihadists are sometimes inspired by the utopian promise of a stateless society, albeit one in which sovereignty is divine rather than human. But the real connection between the two movements can be found in their strategic conception of violence. In the period after the suppression of the Paris Commune in 1871, with the European left subjected to severe official repression and the revolutionary movement at a low ebb, a number of anarchists began to advocate acts of conspiratorial violence by small underground groups as an alternative policy to failed insurrections and absent revolutionary armies. The new strategy was called ’propaganda of the deed’, a term borrowed from a socialist follower of the Italian republican leader Giuseppe Mazzini and which, for anarchists, essentially meant that political homicide could transmit an inspirational message to a wider audience: by targeting the highest representatives of the bourgeois state, the propagandists of the deed sought to demonstrate the vulnerability of their enemies and to rouse the dormant proletarian masses from their passivity.
A similar philosophy underpinned the decision by al-Qaeda to attack American civilian and military targets in the early 1990s. These attacks were intended to mobilize a wider political constituency at a time when the jihadist offensive had stalled across the Middle East. The 9/11 hijackers combined technology and the mass media in ways that were obviously not available to nineteenth-century anarchists, but the choice of symbolic targets belonged to the same tradition.
… To its proponents, the advantage of propaganda by the deed was the fact that it did not require central organization but could be emulated by anyone without logistical support. Yet for years the authorities searched in vain for a ‘Black International’ behind anarchist violence without finding evidence that such a conspiracy existed. The closest to reality this imagined anarchist cabal ever came was in July 1881 when forty-five anarchist delegates from various countries met in a London tavern to discuss the possible formation of an international anarchist organization. Though resolutions were passed to seek greater coordination between different anarchist groups, there is no evidence that these ever bore fruit,
The attempt to establish nebulous ‘linkages’ behind anarchist violence had political advantages that reactionary governments did not fail to exploit. …
About the author: Matt Carr is journalist and author of The Infernal Machine: a History of Terrorism from the Assassination of Tsar Alexander II to Al-Qaeda (2007).
(c) “The World’s First ‘Terrorists’“, Johann Hari, Huffington Post, 11 October 2009 — Excerpt:
From the 1920s on, the anarchist attacks began to dwindle, and by the late 1930s they were over. Why? What happened? Nobody is entirely sure — but most historians suggest a few factors. After the initial wave of state repression, civil liberties slowly advanced — undermining the anarchist claims. The indiscriminate attacks on ordinary civilians discredited anarchism in the eyes of the wider public: after a young man blew himself up in Greenwich Park in 1892, his coffin was stoned and attacked by working class people in the East End. The anarchists’ own cruelty and excess slowly deprived them of recruits.
But, just as importantly, many of the anarchist grievances were addressed by steady reforms. Trade unions were finally legalized, and many of their demands were achieved one by one: an eight-hour working day, greater safety protections, compensation for the injured. Work was no longer so barbaric — so the violent rejection of it faded away. The changes were nowhere near as radical as those demanded by the anarchists, but it stripped them of followers step-by-step.
Could the same be done with Islamism? The lesson from the death of violent anarchism is that the solution lies beyond blanket violent repression of them or its polar opposite, capitulation to their demands. The answer is gradual reform that ends some — but not all — of the sources of their rage. Clearly, many of Islamists’ “grievances” should be left unaddressed: we must never restrict the rights of women or gay people or end the freedom to discuss religion openly, as they demand. But there is plenty we can do.
(3) About the anarchist violence
I hope to add more references here.
- “‘There Are No Innocents’“, Alexander Cockburn, The Nation, 25 October 2004
(4) List of attacks by anarchists
This is not a complete list, but more so than anything else I’ve found. Much of this is from “The First Great Terror“, Kim Seabrook, SocyBerty, 3 November 2009.
- 1878 — Bomb thrown into monarchist parade in Florence. Bomb thrown into crowd at Pisa. Assassination attempts on King Alfonso of Spain and Wilhelm I of Germany.
- 1881 — Assassination of Tsar Alexander II by Ignacy Hrnywiecki.
- 1886 — Bomb attack on Chicago Police.
- 1892 — French anarchist Ravochol bombs the Lobau Barracks in Paris, and attempts to assassinate a prosecutor and judge (nobody died in these attacks). Several bombings in reprisal of his arrest and execution (e.g., the bombing of Restaurant Véry in Paris). Assassination attempt on American industrialist Henry Clay Frick.
- 1893 — Bomb attack by Auguste Vailant on French Chamber of Deputies injures 20. Bomb attack at The Liceo Teatro in Barcelona kills 22.
- 1894 — Emile Henry blows up the Cafe Terminus killing 2.
- 1894 — Italian anarchist Sante Jeronimo Caserio assassinates French President Marie-Francoise Sade Carnot.
- 1899 — Bomb attack at procession during Feast of Corpus Christi in Barcelona kills 12.
- 1897 — Machele Angiolillo assassinates Spain’s Prime Minister Antonio Canovas.
- 1898 — Luigi Lucheni assassinates the Empress Elisabeth of Austria-Hungary.
- 1900 – Gaetano Bresci assassinates King Umberto I of Italy.
- 1901 – Leon Czolgosc assassinates President William H. McKinlay.
- 1902 – Gennaro Rubino attempts to assassinate King Leopold II of Belgium.
- 1909 — During La Tragica Semana (The Tragic Week) 120 people are killed and many hundreds of others wounded as anarchists battle the police and army on the streets of Barcelona.
- 1911 — Dmitri Bogrov assassinates Russian Prime Minister Piotr Stolypin.
- 1912 – Manuel Padrinas assassinates Spanish Prime Minister Jose Canalejas.
- 1913 – Alexander Schinas assassinates King George I of Greece.
- 1916 – A bomb explodes during the San Francisco Preparedness Day Parade killing 10 and injuring 40.
- 1918 — The anarchist revolutionary Nestor Makhno leads his Insurrectionary Army of the Ukraine to victory over the forces of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, and the Tsarist White Russian Army.
- 1920 – The Wall Street bombing leaves 38 dead and injures more than 400 others, the worst terrorist attack in America until the Oklahoma City bombing in 1995.
(5) For more information from the FM site
Reference pages about other topics appear on the right side menu bar, including About the FM website page.
Posts about terrorism:
- Terrorism in India, a roster of incidents, 16 May 2008
- To good a story to die: eliminate legitimate grievances to eliminate terrorism, 9 December 2008
- “Some people just want to see the world burn”, 17 January 2009
- 4GW in India – more people who want to watch the world burn, 19 January 2009
- India looks at the monster in the mirror, 21 January 2009
- Are Americans easily panicked cowards? I think not, but many experts disagree., 24 April 2009