Anarchism and violence

Anarchism and violence

Anarchism and violence have become closely connected in popular thought, in part because of a concept of "propaganda of the deed". Propaganda of the deed, or "attentát", was espoused by a number of leading anarchists in the late nineteenth century, and was associated with a number of incidents of violence. Anarchist thought, however, is quite diverse on the question of violence. Some anarchists have opposed coercion, while others have supported it, particularly in the form of violent revolution on the path to anarchy or utopia. [Fowler, R.B. The Western Political Quarterly, Vol. 25, No. 4. (Dec. 1972), pp. 743-744] Many anarchists regard the state to be at the definitional center of structural violence: directly or indirectly preventing people from meeting their basic needs, calling for violence as self-defense [right of self-defense] . Perhaps the first anarchist periodical was named "The Peaceful Revolutionist", a strain of anarchism has followed Tolstoy's pacifism, and anarchists have often identified violence as a tool of oppression, particularly state oppression.

Propaganda by the deed

Late in the 19th century, anarchist labor unions began to use the tactic of general strike. This was often met with violence and some of the strikes even resulted in .

In this climate, some anarchists began to advocate and practice terrorism (i.e., attacks on civilians) or assassination, which they referred to as propaganda of the deed. United States President William McKinley, among others, was assassinated by Leon Czolgosz, a mentally disturbed man who identified as an anarchist and claimed he had been influenced by the writings of Emma Goldman, among others. Czolgosz' actions were widely condemned by other anarchists, but the media widely characterized Czolgosz as a typical anarchist, and Goldman spoke sympathetically of him although she herself was critiqued for doing so.

Public perception

Depictions in the press and popular fiction helped create a lasting public impression that anarchists are violent terrorists. This perception was enhanced by events such as the Haymarket Riot, where anarchists were blamed for throwing a bomb at police who came to break up a public meeting in Chicago. The writer J. R. R. Tolkien, in a letter to his son, briefly described anarchy as "philosophically understood, meaning abolition of control "not whiskered men with bombs"." [ [] (our emphasis)]

Anarchist theory

Anarchism encompasses a variety of views about violence. The Tolstoian tradition of non-violent resistance is prevalent among some anarchists. Ursula K. Le Guin's novel "The Dispossessed" expressed this anarchism:

Odonianism is anarchism. Not the bomb-in-the-pocket stuff, which is terrorism, whatever name it tries to dignify itself with, not the social-Darwinist economic 'libertarianism' of the far right; but anarchism, as prefigured in early Taoist thought, and expounded by Shelley and Kropotkin, Goldman and Goodman. Anarchism's principal target is the authoritarian State (capitalist or socialist); its principle moral-practical theme is cooperation (solidarity, mutual aid). It is the most idealistic, and to me the most interesting, of all political theories. [Ursula K. Le Guin|Preface of 'The Day Before the Revolution' ('In Memorial to Paul Goodman 1911-1972'), published in the anthology 'The Wind's Twelve Quarters Vol2']

Other anarchists have believed that violence (especially self-defense) is justified as a way to provoke social upheaval which could lead to a social revolution. Errico Malatesta, a socialist anarchist, propounded that it is "necessary to destroy with violence, since one cannot do otherwise, the violence which denies [the means of life and for development] to the workers." [ [ The revolutionary haste by Errico Malatesta ] ] Anarchists with this view advocate violence insofar as they see it to be necessary in ridding the world of exploitation, and especially states. Emma Goldman included in her definition of Anarchism the observation that all governments rest on violence, and this is one of the many reasons they should be opposed. Goldman herself didn't oppose tactics like assassination in her early career, but changed her views after she went to Russia, where she witnessed the violence of the Russian state and the Red Army. From then on she condemned the use of terrorism, especially by the state, and advocated violence only as a means of self-defense. Goldman's views were in keeping with those of Johann Most, who advocated propaganda of the deed.


See also

*Anarcho-capitalist revolution
*Structural violence


Further reading

*cite book |last=Forman |first=James |authorlink=James Forman |title=Anarchism: Political Innocence or Social Violence? |publisher=F. Watts |location=New York |year=1975 |isbn=0531027902
*cite book |last=Richards |first=Vernon |title=Violence and Anarchism |publisher=Freedom Press |location=London |year=1983 |isbn=0900384700
*cite book |last=Gelderloos |first=Peter |authorlink=Peter Gelderloos |title=How Nonviolence Protects the State |publisher=South End Press |location=Boston |year=2007 |isbn=0896087727
*cite book |last=Churchill |first=Ward |authorlink=Ward Churchill |title=Pacifism as Pathology |publisher=AK Press |location=Stirling |year=2007 |isbn=1904859186

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