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 governments 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.


  1. Introduction.
  2. Then and now:  “For jihadist, read anarchist”.
  3. About the anarchist violence.
  4. List of attacks by anarchists.
  5. For more information.

(1)  Introduction

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 suppressed 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)  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.

(4)  For more information

Other interesting articles about anarchists…

If you liked this post, like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter. See all posts about jihadists, and especially these…

  1. Who will find the key to power: America or the Middle East’s jihadists?
  2. The revolution comes to the Middle East: about the past & future of ISIS — by Prof Hugh Roberts.
  3. Business 101 tells us what to expect next from jihadists: good news for them, bad for us.
  4. Jihadists will prosper using the methods of America’s entrepreneurs.
  5. Stratfor: Why ISIS lost Fallujah. What will jihad 3.0 look like?

36 thoughts on “Are Islamic extremists like the anarchists?”

  1. Randy Newman — It’s A Jungle Out There lyrics

    It’s a jungle out there
    Disorder and confusion everywhere
    No one seems to care
    Well I do
    Hey, who’s in charge here?
    It’s a jungle out there
    Poison in the very air we breathe
    Do you know what’s in the water that you drink?
    Well I do, and it’s amazing
    People think I’m crazy, ’cause I worry all the time
    If you paid attention, you’d be worried too
    You better pay attention
    Or this world we love so much might just kill you
    I could be wrong now, but I don’t think so!
    ‘Cause there’s a jungle out there.
    It’s a jungle out there.

  2. That middle bunker is definitely off center


    could you maybe just shift it a bit to the left?

  3. Do you have any evidence that standard police methods “defeated the anarchists” rather than reforms in capitalism?

    The anarchists became marginalized as most of their demands were grudgingly met: the eight hour workday, abolition of child labor, the 5 day (rather than 7-day) work week, elimination of abusive labor practices like the locking-in of workers which led to the Triangle Shirtwaist Fire, improvements in health and safety conditions.

    Also we should not forget that electrification had a huge impact on eliminating anarchists. Steam power meant that factory workers had to be arranged in rigid lines along the spinning shaft that powered their looms or lathes. Changing to electric motors freed up workers and allowed them to disperse throughout factories and made it possible to spread out the factory floor rather than arranging factories vertically in skyscrapers around the central shaft of a steam engine. Electric motors can be placed anywhere on a factory floor and can be set up in any size, whereas with steam power the larger motors must be placed closest to the steam engine’s spinning shaft and all the belts providing power must be very close to the central axis of the steam engine.
    FM reply: You’re conflating two perspectives. Extremists groups easily burn out their small activist base, killed or arrested (hence role of police and intel) — if their support in the population is eliminated (the role of broad social change).

  4. The similarities are many more than the differences between jihadists and the anarchists of a century ago. Their number is few and their intent is to crash a civilization they view as corrupt and beyond the possibility of reclamation. These are the major likenesses that make the major differences secondary. Also – Jihadism’s position within the universe of forces and counter forces of life today is the same as was the anarchists’ in their time.
    But it is clear that this reality is being ignored by the U.S. government. Terrorism instead has been used as an excuse to start wars whose larger purposes remains underexplored while info ops help to keep these purposes underexolored.

  5. Permit me to demur that “the similarities are many more than the differences between the jihadists and the anarchists of a century ago.” Most of the anarchists’ demands could be met, and in fact were between the 1870s and the 1920s. For example, one of the biggest demands the anarchists made involved the abolition of hereditary monarchy. This happened throughout Europe as a result of WW I (except in Britain, the king/queen became a largely powerless figurehead).

    By contrast, does anyone think it possible to meet the jihadists’ demands? Will Europe and America spontaneously abandon secular liberal democracy, embrace Islam, and voluntarily live under sharia law imposed by a caliphate?

    The social side-effects produced by modern technological capitalist civilization pushed in the direction of secular liberal democracy (technology meant more info available to more people, and thus inevitable democratization), improved education (necessary for technological capitalism), women’s rights (crucial to get that female 50% of the population to the workforce to up your nation’s GDP) and advancing technology improved working conditions (technology increasingly eliminated the dirty dangerous work like humans digging ditches or mining coal by hand).

    But the social side-effects of modern technological capitalist civilization are pure poison to fundamentalism Islam. Better education is anathema to a faith-based religion — it serves only to raise uncomfortable questions about the dubious origins of verses in the Qur’an (which was assembled long after Mohammed’s death from fragmentary notes in many cases nearly illegible). Women’s rights appall fundamentalist Islam. Democracy is abhorrent to fundamentalist Islam, based as it is on inflexible sharia and a dictatorial caliphate. Above all, the scientific method which serves as the engine powering modern capitalism is fatally destructive to fundamentalist religion.

    Common sense combined with an examination of the evidence forces us to the conclusion that fundamentalist Islam is diametrically opposite to the early 20th century anarchists in every possible way, and that the trends which ameliorated radical anarchist politics as the 20th century wore are going to exacerbate and inflame radical Islamic fundamentalism as the 21st century wears on.

    The analogy twixt jihadists and anarchists therefore seems fundamentally (all puns intended) flawed. The anarchists’ political agenda arose from the bad side effects of early capitalism, and as technological capitalism advanced, it wound up changing society in such a way that it actually met most of the anarchists’ demands. The modern mixed economies of Europe are essentially Fabian socialism, even including “free love” (the ne plus ultra of utopian fantasies in 19th century Europe but today, commonplace) and anarcho-syndicalist political-economic organizations that abolish the profit motive, which today have become increasingly common in the form of Wikipedia, the linux operating system, crowdsourcing, and the similar Web 2.0 innovations.

    By contrast, jihadists’ demands derive from a fanatical religious philosophy and no matter how far technological capitalism advances, it will not meet the jihadists’ demands for global Islam, universal sharia law, the subjugation of women, and global rule by an Islamic caliph.
    FM reply: What is your basis for these statements about the jihardist movement? Most writings I’ve seen in the general media are expressions of the authors’ heated imagination rather than actual research (in the grand tradition of such things, as seen in the similar writings about the feminists, civil rights, anarchists, and leftist movements). It’s a genre of fiction.

    Their activities in the Middle East appear to be driven by purely local concerns. Their activities outside that area aer of a scale roughly similar to that of the anarchists and leftist radicals (1960’s-70s) — are far far smaller than the racial extremists that set America’s cities afire during the late 1960’s.

  6. Assassination of Archduke Ferdinand, 1914

    Two bullets fired on a Sarajevo street on a sunny June morning in 1914 set in motion a series of events that shaped the world we live in today. World War One, World War Two, the Cold War and its conclusion all trace their origins to the gunshots that interrupted that summer day.
    FM reply: Of what relevance is that to this this post? Nationalists, not anarchists.


    Remember the Maine?

    Remington’s boss, William Randolph Hearst, sent a cable in reply: “Please remain. You furnish the pictures, I’ll furnish the war.” Hearst was true to his word. For weeks after the Maine disaster, the Journal devoted more than eight pages a day to the story. Not to be outdone, other papers followed Hearst’s lead. Hundreds of editorials demanded that the Maine and American honor be avenged. Many Americans agreed. Soon a rallying cry could be heard everywhere — in the papers, on the streets, and in the halls of Congress: “Remember the Maine! To hell with Spain.”

  8. No reforms would ever satisfy the extremists. What reforms might help to weaken popular sympathy for their cause? Or deprive them of some of their fellow travelers? Or tend to divide them into factions?

  9. >does anyone think it possible to meet the jihadists’ demands? Will Europe and America spontaneously abandon secular liberal democracy, embrace Islam, and voluntarily live under sharia law imposed by a caliphate?

    Americans wars are marked by an inability to understand the motivations of other peoples and the constant conflation of all conflicts into an ideological war of such a fundamental nature that any solution other than complete success or complete defeat is impossible.

    Do you really think that the people drawn to radical Islam are motivated to make such great sacrifices by the desire to see sharia law in Washington ? Isn’t it much more likely that they are motivated by the injustices they see around them every day in their own countries? – Injustices that are regularly championed by the US in the name of stability and self interest.

    There is nothing historically special about radical Islam it is largely a just a reaction to the political structures put in place during the cold war in the middle east. Any other of the thousands of revolts against an uncaring unresponsive empire that priorities it’s own central interests over the rest and uses civil wars to enhance it’s influence by trying to pick winners is the precedent for the war on terror.

    What is interesting is that the pretence of an ideological basis is very shallow amongst Americans – they regularly will tell you “so what don’t all empires do that”. It should be seen less as a conviction and more as a mere convenience maintained until the costs become too high and then “practical” solutions are adopted to deal with the facts on the ground.

  10. Oblat asks: Do you really think that the people drawn to radical Islam are motivated to make such great sacrifices by the desire to see sharia law in Washington ?

    Some are, some aren’t. If you’re talking about Al Qaeda, yes — they’re fighting and dying in order to see sharia law in Washington, Moscow, New Delhi, Tokyo, Rio and everywhere else on earth. But the Iraqi insurgents and the Afghan Pashtuns are not fighting to impose radical Islam on the world, those insurgents in those countries are fighting civil wars against other internal groups. Obama and America have failed to recognize this basic distinction. (Just as Westmoreland failed to realize that General Giap in Viet Nam was not fighting to turn Washington D.C. communist, he was fighting to expel colonialist invaders from his country.)

    American military forces are in Iraq and Afghanistan not to fight Al Qaeda (there are < 100 Al Qaeda in Afghanistan now) but to do nation-building, which is a crazy project and has nothing to do with fighting fundamentalism and everything to do with wacky fantasies about turning the entire world in to Des Moines Idaho circa 1953.

    For you to claim that "radical Islam is largely just a reaction to the political structures put in place during the cold war in the middle east" conflates a great many issues and oversimplifies a complex situation. Some political actors in the middle east are jihadists, most, as you note, are merely nationalists engaged in civil wars — the Sunnis vs. the Shiites in Iraq, which is essentially a political conflict because the Sunnis were only 20% of the population but held exclusive political power for 50 years. The Pahstuns vs Karzai's puppet government in Afghanistna, which is once again a nationalist struggle.
    An awful lot of the people in the mideast today are using Islamic rhetoric to further nationalist goals, just as national liberation movements often used communist rhetoric in the 1960s to further their goal of liberation from colonial European powers.

  11. I take issue with the Headline title “The Worlds First Terrorists” , that honor should rightfully go to the Fenians in the 1860’s in the America, UK and Ireland. {See Wikipedia}

    Credit where credit is due.

    Ireland in the 19th century was a hot house of political agitation, and political movements, and proto terrorists, most of the Political/Guerrilla/terrorist developments in the 20th century first developed in Ireland between the 1820’s and the 1920’s.
    FM reply: I have never heard of these folks, but the various Wikipedia entries I’ve skimmed mention no terrorist activities.

  12. I think there are a few critical differences in the anarchist attacks at the close of the 19th century and the Islamic terror attacks of today that provoke (not require, but provoke) a different response. First off, the anarchist terror was more focused on prominent individuals, mainly though not exclusively heads of state. This feels focused, but not senseless or a direct danger to the individual member of the public that the destruction of the towers was.

    Second, the anarchist movement was not on any level actively sponsored by other states as a form of warfare against others. There were no real “safe havens.” You mention that we didn’t bomb Italy, even though many anarchists originated there. But the Italian government didn’t rejoice in the death of the Empress of Austria and refuse to extradite the organizers, either.

    Third, even if they had state sponsorship, the anarchists were limited to basically a grenade. Yes, they killed people, but no one was at all concerned that they might kill thousands or tens of thousands. The technology for such simply wasn’t available. It was technically feasible that a group of anarchists might have pulled of the equivalent of the Mumbai, India massacre, with multiple people using small arms to randomly kill many. But they never made it to that level. They simply just weren’t that much of a threat.

    There are similarities, and it’s worthwhile to compare them. But too much of the details, especially the details of scale, don’t match up. If the anarchists had bombed the London Stock Exchange, killing thousands, and had a safe haven base of operations, and loudly proclaimed that more attacks would come until the British Empire fell, I think something other than police action would have come out of it.
    FM reply: Who are the government’s providing safe havens today to Islamic extremists? Also note we beat down the leftist terrorists using normal police/intel tools, and they were directly supported by a superpower.

    I don’t understand your last point. By most metrics, the “scale” argument weights the anarchists more heavily than today’s Islamic attacks: far greater frequency and far more politically significant targets. Today’s terrorists did one large attack, but that reflects the two groups different tactics more than anything else. IMO the focused attacks fo the anarchists indicates that they were smarter (hence more dangerous) than today’s Islamic-whackos, whose indescrimate killing makes enemies of friend and foe.

  13. Fair questions in your response, FM.

    On the question of governments that provide safe havens, wasn’t the justification for invading Afghanistan the direct support the Taliban government (one we didn’t recognize de jure, I admit) provided to the Al Queda network? And two of the points on the Congressional use of force in Iraq were that Al Queda members were cited as being known to be in Iraq, and a citing of Iraq’s support of international terrorists. We can dispute that the citings were accurate, but part of the justification for both invasions was direct support for international terror. I don’t think there is any parallel to this in the anarchist movement of the late 19th century. We did beat down leftist terrorists using police/intel tools, you are correct there, of course. But having a foreign government act as a sponsor makes a military option possible, where it really was no where near as possible against the anarchist movement.

    On your other point, I think the scale of the attack, meaning (in this case) the number of people dead, the smoking craters on the ground, and the twisted metal and disruption to an entire major city’s downtown matters a great deal. President McKinley is shot and killed, the country is shocked and appalled, Teddy Roosevelt is sworn in, life goes on. In New York we were clearing bodies for weeks, and for months people downtown couldn’t go to work. The one is an act of murder, the other an act of war.

    To use a different (and admittedly suspect, don’t take this too seriously) analogy, if a agent of the Japanese Empire had shot President Roosevelt in 1941, we very well might have declared war over it. But as Pearl Harbor started that morning, we were at war. The declarations followed the act. I think the scale of 9/11 matters greatly to the psychology of a nation. A declaration of war, which the Congressional Authorizations more or less were, was very acceptable to the nation at the time.
    FM reply: Your whole opening section has no basis in fact, reflecting little but effective government propaganda. As for the “smoking crater” justifying an act of war, war is waged against states. Hundreds of articles have explained (including the 9-11 Commission report), al Q’s bases in Afghanistan had no substantive role in the 9-11 attacks. In any case, many high US officials have repeated stated that al Q no longer has a substantive presence in Afghanistan (i.e., perhaps a few hundred).

    As for the psychology of a nation, disasters of that scale are commonplaces of history. Disease and war frequently decimated nations. Those ills no longer afflict us with such scale or frequency. In “exchange” we get endemic low-level terrorism. That is progress.

    Our ancestors managed not to wet their pants at every such event. We should do so as well.

  14. FM: “I have never heard of these folks, but the various Wikipedia entries I’ve skimmed mention no terrorist activities.

    The Fenians, spawned the IRB, precursors to the IRA. The Fenians carried out an assassination and bombing campaign in the United Kingdom. Highly active in the dissimination of propaganda and infiltrating legitimate organisations.

    The Wikipedia articles are quite thin. For a more through synopsis try the history learning site. The Fenian entries in wikipedia seem to concern border attacks by Irish Americans into Canada, in a bid to collapse British power in Canada, unsuccessful.
    FM reply: Thanks for the link. Note, however, that their invasion of Canada was not terrorism in any meaningful sense (at least, as the Wikip entries describe them).

  15. FM, I don’t dispute that it might be government propaganda, nor do I say our response was the correct one. But I think what happened made a military response possible. Who would Teddy Roosevelt have declared war on, when McKinley died, if he was so inclined to?

    As to your statement “Our ancestors managed to not wet their pants at every such event” — really? What events come to mind as being comparable to 9/11 in American History? Here’s the list that comes to my mind: Pearl Harbor. Ft. Sumter. The explosion of the Maine. All of these resulted in war. At least one of these, the Maine, seems to have been entirely propaganda as well.

    In fact, if I want as direct a parallel to recent events as I can find in American history, the Spanish-American war, started as a result of what was probably an accident on the Maine, whipped into a frenzy by the media, fought over Spanish possessions throughout the world, and resulting in a long and bloody occupation of the Philippines in the teeth of guerrilla action seems to be the closest I can find.

    Can you think of a time when several thousand American citizens died as a direct result of hostile action where we did not go to war? The destruction of the Lusitania might count, but I struggle to come up with others.
    FM reply: You appear not to have read my reply very closely.

    “What events come to mind as being comparable to 9/11 in American History?”

    I said “disasters of that scale are commonplaces of history. Disease and war frequently decimated nations.” We have had dozens of epidemics, natural disasters, and engineering failures that have killed thousands of people.

    “Can you think of a time when several thousand American citizens died as a direct result of hostile action”

    These things are rare because modern history if brief. Just wait. There will be more such incidents, as technology makes them easier to achieve. If we respond by arbitrarily picking nations to invade, we’ll soon be defeated paupers. Our children will read remarks like your and cry for our stupidity.

  16. excellent topic and references. many thanks.

    today’s violent jihadi’s have two historical analogs that i like: one consists of the millenarians of the middle ages, which has received some attention at the zenpundit blog, notably via posts by charles cameron. the other analog consists of the 19th-20th century anarchists, and i’m delighted at the rare light you cast on this.

    many years ago we looked briefly at anarchists’ use of dynamite, the high-tech weapon of its time, as a possible analog for thinking about the potential appeal of nuclear terrorism for the kinds of terrorist groups that existed in the 1980s (pre-jihadi). some themes we found in anarchist writings about dynamite that still resonate today included: using science against the system; empowering individuals to bring down the system; and breaking through to create a new time. the anarchists we looked at rationalized the usage of dynamite as a populist, scientific, moral, humane, and/or mystical-magical form of power.

    source: The Mindsets of High-Technology Terrorists: Future Implications from an Historical Analog (Rand, 1981)
    FM reply: Agree, the invention of dynamite marks the start of a new era — at aprox the same time as the threat of infectious disease fades away. Low level of endemic terrorism — buildings, perhaps even cities — get blown away. But the net effect is a major improvement for humanity.

  17. Perhaps 5 th November is an example of Anarchy vs Terrorism. We used , with our little pals , to collect old clothes ,stuff them with straw to make a hideous effigy of Guy, which we pushed round town in a borrowed pram , asking for penny donations for fireworks . The Guys were then burned on a bonfires in backyards , accompanied by some meagre fireworks that fizzled out in the inevitable rain , and the semi-baking of potatoes and chestnuts on the fire.
    Now the US Haloween nonsense has taken over , kids strut round and demand sweets / money , and if they know you are at home and you dont answer the door / tell them to eff off , they key your car .

  18. “As for the “smoking crater” justifying an act of war, war is waged against states.”

    That definition is now obsolete. New times, new wars. Confronting todays world with yesterdays dictionary is just silly. If 3000 of my fellow citizens lying dead on the streets of New York does not justify war, well, what the hell does?

    Denying the justification for the war, makes one appear inhuman, mindlessly so.

    Viewed with yesterdays definitions and policies, this war seems to be absolute nonsense. But those past wars were fought against states. This war is fought against terror. It is a war to prevent another 9-11, therefore, the justification is not what a state has done, but what they might do. What if Iraq had sold weapons of mass destruction to Al Queada, which was then used? What US government could stand after that? what excuse could they possibly have, when 9-11 demonstrated clearly, the flaws in our intelligence process?

    The successful argument against the war, lies in recognizing that it is justified, and therefore, just. we must focus our efforts on managing the carnage, urging our armed forces to update their ways of war, and prevent a massacre of historic proportions. Denying the justification of the war will just make people turn away.
    FM reply: This displays a widespread but sad misunderstanding about the nature of conflict and military force. It’s too deep and basic to discuss here, nor would you pay attention. There have been many experts answering your question. Two I’d recommend are If We Can Keep It by Chet Richards (Colonel, USAF, retired) and The Utility of Force: The Art of War in the Modern World by Rupert Smith (General, UK Army, retired).

    For a brief summary, see A solution to 4GW – the introduction.

  19. To Mikyo (coment 5) regarding the reform that is needed. Theoretically, reform will take the steam out, but it must be done in Islam from within. The Jihadists quote Quranic instructions and Islamic teachings in support of the atrocities that they commit.

    None of the Islamic religious leaders and theologians challenge the Jihadists’ interpretation, because they are in agreement: the Jihadists are doing the right thing. But Islam can be reformed, to remove the eternal Jihad concept.

    In my book, the last chapter contains a short summary of how it could be done. Here is the link. {His book is THE COW – An Unbeliever’s Journey Through The Quran’s Longest Chapter, by Moses Al-Shami}

    Basically, you need to confine the “War commandments” (war verses, war surahs) to Muhammad’s time and to geographically Arabia, and afford Islamic jurists more lattitude in the interpretation of the Quran, to better adapt to the present.

    But, as I said, it must be done from within. Unfortunately, there are no signs of that happening in our lifetime.
    FM reply: Thank you for the reference to your book!

    Although having no expert knowledge on the subject, I’ve read of signs that some Islam communities in the developed nations are evolving. And some in the non-Arab world. Early stages only, however. More common in Europe and the US are 3rd generation children moving away from Islam. This was evident in the surveys following the 2005 riots in France. See The Rioting in France and the Decline of the State for links.

  20. I think FM has this one right. Of course there are differences, but the fact is the terrorists are simply political criminals. It is also true that alQaeda’s original three demands could actually be met, and are arguably in the interests of the US, despite their origin. One has been met, the withdrawal of our troops from Saudi Arabia. The other two, ending unconditional support for our ‘ally’ Israel (which technically is no one’s ally, having no recognized international borders) and support for corrupt, oligarchical Middle Eastern regimes, can be met, may be, and again, arguably should be.

    One wonders if we had taken a criminal/propaganda approach to this matter… paid 5,000 spies a million dollars a year to infiltrate, inform and assassinate, and spent another $5,000,000,000 per year on solid propaganda… how much better off we would be, and how much more cheaply. Use quotes from the Koran and Islamic thinkers to undermine jihadist rhetoric. Publicize their atrocities, attacks on women and girls, graphically…

    Total expenditures as of this date would be about 80 billion dollars. Total. Think about it.

  21. Islam has had an internal debate between rationalists and religious extremists for about a 1,000 years. But much of that internal debate, like most intellectual arguments, has been really about power.

    Speaking of the quest for power, the terrorists of the Reconstruction South, AKA the KKK, were trying to impose a cultural and social power when their political power had been suppressed. The KKK (and its terrorism) mostly disappeared with the end of Reconstruction, only to reappear a generation later in another quest for power.

  22. Has anyone here read the Management of Savagery? (also called the Governance of the Wilderness, among other related titles; the translation is iffy). It’s supposedly one of the key strategic texts for modern international jihadism. Many of its core tactical points are very close to Insurrectionist and Ontological anarchist theories, especially regard to creating ungoverned zones.

    Some links for reference:
    + The text itself (PDF warning)
    + John Robb relates it to his Global Guerrillas theory here
    FM reply: Texts from foreign texts must be read carefully, when one lacks knowledge of the background culture and language. There is a long history of misunderstandings, esp when done by amateurs. Also important — even vital — is understanding of how the target audience sees the work. It might look powerful to you, esp in a dubious English translation, but be stale or foolish to its real audience.

  23. A fascinating post. To my discredit, I have never thought to link the two before. However, I must ask — is not the organizational capabilities of the two groups vastly different from each other? I always had the impression that the Edwardian anarchists were (for the most part) lone nut jobs with guns. An individual member of Al Qaeida, in contrast, is a nut jobs with the backing of a transnational terror network and the resources that provides.
    FM reply: Ah, the great enemies of the past. SPECTRE, COBRA, THRUST, and al Qaeda. Is there any evidence that the last of these is substantially more powerful than the others? Al Qaeda existed in some form, probably small, before 9/11 — and police/intel work since then has by most reports devestated its organization.

  24. FM, I must admit that I am not well read on this topic. Common discourse holds Al Qaeda (or networked terrorist groups in general) to have some organizational capacity. The burden of evidence lies on those dissenting. But you do seem informed on the matter — could you provide us with the evidence you use to justify the comparison between SPECTRE and Al Qaeda? For this reader it would be most appreciated.
    FM reply: In the US, common discourse about foreign affairs is largely DoD propaganda. They spend vast amounts on their info ops, supported by even larger sums from defense contractors, and get real value for their money.

    “The burden of evidence lies on those dissenting.”

    I hope that’s humor. Can you cite anything authorative supporting your assertions? BTW, do you still expect to find Saddham’s WMD’s, or evidence that the Afghanistan bases had a significant role in 9/11? Or the bomber gap and the missile gap? The Tonkin Gulf crisis? “Have you heard the saying, fool me once, shame on me — fool me a thousand times and I’ll go ba ba ba!”

  25. The literature of a period—including fiction—can give valuable, though indirect, clues about the thinking of the period in which it was written. When I read G.K. Chesterton’s The Man Who Was Thursday, my greatest difficulty was to suspend disbelief in the book’s conceit that “anarchists” constituted a grave and immediate danger to…well, everybody (read: England). Chesterton published this piece in 1908, and I kept wanting to shout, “No! That is not what you should be worrying about!”

    It’s clear from the book that Chesterton expected his audience to readily believe in the threat of Anarchism, for the work would have made no sense without that background. So there is one clue that, at the opening of the 20th Century, people (well, the English) regarded Anarchism much as we regard “jihadists” today. I’m willing to bet that we’re equally wrong about the identity of the particular horseman of the Apocalypse we are due to face.
    FM reply: That’s a powerful insight, well worth some thoughts.

  26. With regard to the question about what happened to the international anarchist threat, I’m fairly sure I know the answer: the Communists pulled their teeth and then shot them in the back.

    During the early phases if the Spanish Civil War, the anarchists (OK, technically “Anarcho-Syndicalists”) had by far the most guns and the most men. Their Communist allies could not abide this sort of competition, so they deployed a truly cynical and ruthless tactic: they invited the Anarchists to join the Republican government. The bait was delicious: key government ministries, including the Ministry of the Interior, which (allegedly) controlled the security forces. The Anarchists accepted, and that was the end of them, for when it comes to political machination and the ruthless backstabbing of “allies”, the Bolsheviks have ever been peerless.
    FM reply: Thanks for the interesting historical note. But what about the anarchists in other nations (e.g., Italy, US)?

  27. FM: “In the US, common discourse about foreign affairs is largely DoD propaganda. They spend vast amounts on their info ops, supported by even larger sums from defense contractors, and get real value for their money.”

    I do not deny this; I recognize it as much as you. Indeed, it is why I requested for more literature on the subject. It was an honest request. You claim that an explicit assumption made by every politician, analyst, and talking head in the nation is false. This is no small thing. I figured that there was more behind it than an inherit distrust of security types — that is all.

    (As a parting thought — I never did “assert” anything. Nowhere did I state that I do – or ever did – believe that AQ’s Afghanistan bases had anything to do with 9/11. I did not state a contention, but ask a question. Patronizing retorts are unnecessary.)
    FM reply: Replay the tape.

    “Common discourse holds Al Qaeda (or networked terrorist groups in general) to have some organizational capacity”

    That’s an assertion. I’ll believe it when I see evidence of this, from some competent authority. My grounds for skepticism were clearly stated — the US government’s long history of exaggerating (or fabricating) threats. Also, it’s the role of people asserting such things to provide evidence, not the skeptics (as in proving that there are no elves).

  28. FM: “Thanks for the interesting historical note. But what about the anarchists in other nations (e.g., Italy, US)?

    The Spanish Civil War was an international war; it was a stage on which just about every important ideology in the Western world played a part. Many of the zealous came to Spain, either to fight (like George Orwell), or to watch (like Hemingway). Throughout the world, lessons were drawn from the war’s outcome.

    Had the anarcho-syndicalist movement triumphed, it is at least reasonable to suppose that similar uprisings of local agrarian and industrial worker militias would have occurred in the rest of the world. Such a victory would have created a powerful precedent for a true revolutionary movement. That’s why the Communists had to destroy the Anarchists: the Communists would (and did) rather lose the war than contribute to an Anarchist victory. In defeat, they could play the martyr; had the Republican forces triumphed as a result of Anarchist strength, the Communists would have been revealed as the pale imitation of genuine revolutionaries that they were.

    Savor the irony. The ruling classes of the Western capitalist world feared the Anarchists, yet the new “revolutionary” Communists feared them most of all. But at bottom, the Anarchists were doomed by their own intrinsic weakness, the one the Communists used to bring them down: to defeat Anarchists, all you have to do is to offer them power.

    It’s a stretch, but we could draw some parallels between the Afghan and Spanish wars. Both are cases of internationalized civil wars. Both are ideologically loaded—though the U.S. is fairly oblivious to the ideological dimensions of the Afghan war, we know that many have journeyed there to fight against the U.S. forces for ideological (or religious) reasons. Like the Spanish civil war, the Afghan war is more complicated than it appears from the outside: there are many internal and external factions variously in uneasy alliance or opposition, the Americans, Pakistanis and Iranians have their own multiple agendas. Maybe the Afghan war will end with no permanent effects outside of the region; maybe there will be an ideological crystallization that constitutes an unintended consequence of a very high order.

  29. “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..”

    The major, but unmentioned factor, was that the anarchists themselves realized that individual “propaganda through deeds”, though spectacular, was inefficient, and so changed their focus towards collective action with the disenfranchised masses. This gave rise to anarcho-syndicalism and anarcho-peasantry.

    The anarchists never had as much influence, as much power and as many committed followers as during the period 1918-1939. And they were definitely not squeamish about their methods.

    FM: “But what about the anarchists in other; nations (e.g., Italy, US)?

    Russia: The tsarist Okhrana dealt devastating blows to anarchists. They nevertheless increased their activities, so much so that in 1918, under the leadership of Makhno, they had an army and established an anarcho-peasant government in Ukraine. Following the defeat of the Whites, the Red Army turned its attention to Makhno and crushed the anarchist experiment by treachery and overwhelming military force in 1921.

    China: There was a significant anarchist movement in China, which managed to establish an anarchist government in a part of Manchuria in the early 1930s — much to the displeasure of the Japanese and of Stalin. They were crushed militarily after a few years. In the other parts of China, anarchists collapsed under the blows of the Kuomintang, Communists, and Japanese.

    Italy: Mussolini took care of them. Some escaped to France or the USA.

    USA: With the arrival of foreigners, anarchism flared up during the 1920s (Sacco & Vanzetti affair, Wall Street bombing). The influence of anarcho-syndicalism led anarchists to take part in the organization of labour movements across the USA. The impact of the New Deal probably explains, at least in part, why they lost their influence.

    France: Anarchists evolved towards syndicalism on the model of the Spanish FAI-CNT. They never achieved anything comparable because of dissensions — though they definitely played a role in the workers’ movement of the inter-war period. Vichy and the Nazis eventually wiped them out.

    Spain: As a previous message explained, the Spanish anarcho-syndicalists went down in the 1930s fighting Franco and stabbed in the back by the Communists. Those who escaped to France were interned, and then, when the country was invaded by Germany, were deported to Nazi concentration camps.

    FM: “Using standard police and intelligence methods, Western governments defeated the anarchists without massive restrictions on civil liberties and military operations.

    Debatable. The “red scare” measures in the USA or the “lois scélérates” in France may well be considered as severe restrictions on civil liberties. The police methods of Franco, Stalin, Mussolini, Pétain were certainly standard in their own way. As for military operations, see above.

    FM: “Today’s violence from islamic extremists has many similarities to the anarchists of the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

    Their goals, targets, organization, and philosophy are just too different for a direct comparison. Why not an equivalence between jihadists and the Tamil Tigers — who well into the Iraq war were world champions of suicide bombings? For that matter, why not draw a parallel between Al Qaeda and the Russian Socialist Revolutionary Party? It launched a massive number of assassination attempts, used the same techniques as the anarchists, and those attacks were as spectacular.

  30. Here, take this link, it may be of use to your article about different terrorist movements: “The Four Waves of Rebel Terror and September 11“, David C. Rapoport (Professor Emeritus of Political Science, UCLA), Anthropoetics (The Journal of Generative Anthropology), Spring/Summer 2002.
    FM reply: Thank you for posting a link to this excellent article!

  31. Pingback: Morris V. de Camp, "Lessons for White Advocates in The Looming Tower" | Counter-Currents Publishing

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Scroll to Top
%d bloggers like this: