Anarchists and the cataclysms of the 20th century..

Funny the directions in which research for books can take you. As part of my research for my planned detective fiction series, I’ve been reading a lot of ‘true-crime’ books from the 1910’s, 20’s and 30’s, and one of the authors I’ve been reading is a once-famous writer and criminologist called Harry Ashton-Wolfe. He was a friend of Conan Doyle’s, and also of the extraordinary French criminologist and director of police techniques laboratories in Lyon, Dr Edmond Locard(whose books I’ve also been reading). When Ashton-Wolfe was on a trip to Lyon to speak with Dr Locard (who was dubbed the ‘French Sherlock Holmes’), he came across a rogues’ gallery of criminals the Lyon Surete had had a hand in identifying and arresting: and he was astonished to find the face of an ex-chauffeur of his staring out at him. Turned out this was none other than the notorious anarchist bandit Jules Bonnot, who with his ‘Bande a Bonnot’ (Bonnot’s Gang)had, in 1911, the dubious distinction of being the first bank robber to use a getaway car. Bonnot’s reign of terror–he robbed banks and murdered people, all in the name of anarchist revolution–lasted only a year or two, but he was part of the whole climate of anarchist violence that convulsed Europe from the 1890’s on. (Turned out Bonnot had indeed been Ashton-Wolfe’s driver, for a year or two, and indeed he had driven Conan Doyle on occasion too; he was a gifted mechanic as well. )
Anyway, getting on the trail of this guy led me to look more closely at the whole anarchist phenomenon–one I’d been aware of, but without any real context. And the more I read, the more I wondered–was it the anarchists who really spawned the violent and terrifying twentieth century, and the convulsions which tore it apart? In many countries, their terrorist outrages, assassinations and bombings paved the way for the bloodthirsty ideological tyrannies of the century–Communism, Fascism, Nazism–which of course reinforced the power of the State to a pitch never before seen; and also precipitated the First World War. The instability which the anarchists so gleefully and naively fostered–which was used and manipulated by the tyrants waiting in the wings as well as the fearful earlier autocrats–was supposed to open the way for a happy, humane society freed of constraints and external power–free of State, Church and capitalism–but instead inflicted barbarity and hideous misery on millions, not to speak of vast, corrupt and crushing bureaucracies.

Of course, anarchists can be of both left and right, and whilst their wildness and tendency to act before they think was happily used by the Statist tyrants such as the Bolsheviks and Fascists and Nazis, as soon as the latter come to power, the bomb-throwers and assassins as well as those merely advocating violent revolution, very soon become public enemy number one, and the anarchists were imprisoned, tortured and executed in their hundreds.
Like many political revolutionaries, the origins of the anarchists lie in the French Revolution; this was the first time the word was used, by the Girondins. The ‘anarchists’ or ‘enrages’ as they were also known were not only enemies of the royalists, the reformers, the democrats, the Girondins, but also of the Jacobins, whom they reviled for their ‘statism’. But their violence and their self-defeating philosophy soon saw them swallowed up by the ruthless Jacobins, who created State terror of a kind never before seen, copied later by the Bolsheviks and the Fascists/Nazis. They were ‘useful idiots’ for the latter, who crushed them as soon as their power was consolidated. And so it proved at every instance. Always, the anarchists, like birds of ill omen, opened the way for tyranny, with their bombs, guns and daggers; always, they failed in provoking revolution amongst the workers and on the streets, and instead opened the way to more repression and greater tyranny. The anarchists never achieved their revolution, except perhaps in Spain, and that was soon crushed between the forces of Franco, helped by the Fascists and Nazis, and those of Soviet Communism…It seems they have a great knack for shooting themselves in the foot; for making grand, bloody gestures that have exactly the opposite effect to what they hope for.
After the second world war, anarchism died away again, but it seems to me it’s making a comeback. I think Al-Qaeda and its affinity offshoots can in part at least be interpreted as having strong anarchist elements(this is why it might be useful for intelligence services to look at them in terms of the loose affinity groups of the late 19th cent/early 20th cent anarchists, rather than the tighter, more disciplined and ideological Fascists or Bolsheviks). It’s not a perfect analogy, for history doesn’t repeat itself as a carbon-copy, but Saudi Arabia, for instance, could in a way be seen as being in the position of an Italy or a Russia at the beginning of the 20th century; an autocratic regime which has fatal weaknesses, and is vulnerable to anarchist terrorist attack–which could be followed by a much worse thing, an ideology which has used the violence of the anarchists to achieve the goal of destabilising the State, but which has Statist ambitions of its own (can’t see who that might be yet, but it could be Iranian-inspired, perhaps). The ‘anarchists’ of Al Qaeda have failed to make the general populace rise; the ‘Arab street’ has no more stomach for that kind of violent revolution than the European populations had back then. And the stirrings of democratic revolt appear to give some hope that reform might follow; however, who’s to know what bubblings of the pot are happening right now?
In the West, anarchist groups are stirring too, perhaps seeing an opportunity in the general instability and uncertain climate , and the worries people have over the kinds of laws that are being passed by democratic governments, in their own defence against terror. Anarchists have infiltrated movements like the anti-globalisation movement, and the ‘stop the war’ coalition, and there are certain indications that some anarchists are retraining again for violent action–action which was forsworn by and large since the end of WWII. Recently, the FBI proscribed the reformed Anarchist Black Cross Federation, which theoretically campaigns for ‘political prisoners’ , on the grounds that their website and other literature had been talking in a rather worrying manner about ‘firearms training’ and publishing details of big-company executives’ addresses and lives. This puts the ABCF on the same list as Al Qaeda and co; which may seem an over-reaction, when you consider what a small group it is. But it seems no-one wants to be caught napping again.
Interesting times we live in..

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97 Responses to Anarchists and the cataclysms of the 20th century..

  1. The short answer is no, Sophie. Most anarchists believe firmly in non-violence, and the anarchist terrorism in the Nineteenth Century was widely condemned within libertarian circles back then. Most anarchists in the (wrongly named) anti-globalisation movement are also committed to non-violence. I suggest that you also do your research in sources which represent anarchism positively.

    http://www.zmag.org/anarchism_debates.htm

    http://anarchism.www7.50megs.com/

    I note that you concede that the analogy between Islamism and anarchism is not straightforward. Indeed it’s not – the goals are very different – theocracy in one case, personal freedom in the other. Organisational form isn’t the sole determinant of what’s anarchist – most New Age and neo-pagan religions and many networked business organisations share with both terrorist and anarchist political groups a decentralised organisational structure. The key here is the commitment to democracy and self-determination and participatory decision-making which is present in anarchist groups but not in others that are superficially similar.

  2. I’d also recommend Sean M. Sheehan’s book “Anarchism” for a recent and accessible demolition of the claims that anarchism is always or necessarily violent.

    http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/tg/detail/-/1861891695/qid=1112066529/sr=1-2/ref=sr_1_2/103-3627246-5854244?v=glance&s=books

  3. blank says:

    All you’ve really said Mark is that “not all anarchists are violent”, which is about as useful as saying “Not all anti-abortionists in the US are prepared to murder doctors and nurses in pursuit of their goals.”

  4. I don’t see it as my mission in life to rebut any claims made about anarchism that are stereotyped, blank – which is why I made some reading suggestions. If I wanted to expound anarchism at length, I’d post on it but I do want to signal the fact that there are some common misconceptions.

  5. harry says:

    It is Sophie, not Mark, making blanket statements about anarchists, blank.

    Sophie’s thesis above suffers from simplification and arbitary redining of terms. If anyone is making non-useful commentary it is Sophie, not Mark. The lack of any mention of 1960s and 1970s anarchists (especially the obvious violent ones eg Sybionese army) is telling.

  6. harry says:

    Sorry, please read “re-defining” for “redining”.

    I am philosophically unopposed to anyone redining, even in a public forum.

  7. sophie says:

    Mark, most of my reading was actually done in sources that _were_ sympathetic to the anarchists–in books, newsletters, journals and websites run and written by anarchists. I drew my own conclusions. I am well aware of the fact not all people professing anarchy are/were violent; but the ones who made the stir were, I’m afraid, violent. And they were definitely anarchists, not anything else. Surely you cannot deny that.
    My post really offered a few reflections. I’d never really thought about these things before, in that way. It made me think about whether we should really think of the First World War as THE big event that changed everything in the 20th cent or look back to the time when anarchists took Kropotkin’s advice and decided that the deed was the thing; that violence was the answer to changing society. It made me think differently about the ’20th century’ and its revolutionary movements: perhaps the period from the late 1880’s, early 1890’s, when the anarchists began targeting and assassinating State officials, right to 1945, is a period of mass revolution which deserves to be looked at together.
    You do well to remind me of the 60’s and 70’s anarchists, Harry, which I should have mentioned. I did think of that period but forgot the SLA, thinking of Baader Meinhof, Red Army, etc, which strictly speaking I suppose weren’t anarchists, but Marxists. But my thoughts on all this are necessarily incomplete, as I was really ‘thinking aloud’.

  8. Rob says:

    Mark, I wonder if you’re not seeing this issue too much through the glass of pure theory? I mean, any political theory, if you accept it on its own account of itself, is going to look pretty innocuous. You’d think it pretty hard to present Nazism as a beneficient ideology but Leni Riefenstahl managed it in the Triumph of the Will.

    I looked through some of the stuff on zmag on the link you posted and it looks tame enough – vague New-Ageist sentiment with a hard political edge.

    But the theory itself is not the test – the test is what is done in its name. Every political theory or dogma has the potential to be used violently, even terroristically. We”ve seen instances of that in the environmental movement and the animal rights movement, whose mainstream gorupings vehemently disavow the use of violence. It takes only a small number of people within a broader political movement to decide to take the path of violence.

    Partly this is because violence imbues the ‘theory’ with real power, and exercises it. Endless talk-fests, theorizing, debating – and getting nowhere in terms of political impact – these are the things that cause some individuals’ impatience level to cause them to revert to violence. And violence is addictive and feeds on itself (something Hitler, for one, understood perfectly).

    I think that’s the kind of anarchy Sophie’s talking about: not the ‘anarchy’ by which anarchists define and understand themselves, but the ‘anarchy’ that those exterior to it see it operating on the streets.

    In that sense it is perfectly legitimate to talk of Islamic terrorism as containing elements of anarchism. I don’t think it’s an effective rebuttal to return to the guiding texts of anarchism and say, ‘no, it’s not’. That would be rather like contemplating what happened at Tiannenmen Square and saying, ‘that’s not socialism in action’. Of course it is.

  9. Bill Posters says:

    ” I was really ‘thinking aloud'”

    Well, I agree with the “aloud” part…

    0/10; do more research and re-submit.

  10. Jason Soon says:

    there are also non-violent libertarian anarcho-capitalists. traditional anarchists distance themselves from them but I consider them perfectly consistent with the anarchist tradition – in practice they and traditional anarchists would campaign for many of the same things
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Anarcho-capitalism

    the anarcho-capitalist Karl Hess, a former speechwriter to Barry Goldwater, even ended up with the left anarchists because of his opposition to the Vietnam War
    http://www.billstclair.com/from_far_right_to_far_left.html

  11. I agree with you about redining, Harry, and the rest of your comment :)

    Yes, Rob,any political ideology can be violent, but so – what does this prove? Violence and politics go hand in hand. Yes. Terminology is obviously important because without precision we can’t draw distinctions and make evaluative judgements and Sophie clearly wants to do that.

    Most anarchists – in practice not in theory – go out of their way to ensure all views are respected and the value and freedom of each individual is respected.

    “Mark, most of my reading was actually done in sources that _were_ sympathetic to the anarchists–in books, newsletters, journals and websites run and written by anarchists. I drew my own conclusions. I am well aware of the fact not all people professing anarchy are/were violent; but the ones who made the stir were, I’m afraid, violent. And they were definitely anarchists, not anything else. Surely you cannot deny that.”

    No, Sophie, I didn’t in my original comment.

    May I suggest that if indeed you were reading sources representing anarchism positively it would be helpful then if you’d cite some of your sources? Otherwise we don’t know what your generalisations rest on.

  12. Ken Parish says:

    Bill,

    I can see why they want to prosecute you. Try to be civil. You might even find it quite pleasant for a change. And there’s nothing wrong with “thinking aloud” on a blog. The comment box allows for an evolving dialogue where we can all refine our own thoughts. Nor should we be afraid to be wrong from time to time. A blog post isn’t a published lirerary work or refereed scholarly article; at most it’s a work in progress or an immediate reaction to current events. In Sophie’s case it was a reaction to her current reading, and I for one found it an interesting (if challengeable) insight. It would be nice if those who are convinced (rightly or otherwise) that they possess superior erudition could learn real wisdom as well and avoid being painfully patronising while displaying their enormous knowledge.

  13. I wonder if you’re actually addressing Bill there, or someone else, Ken.

  14. I’d add that asking Sophie to justify the generalisations she makes is well within keeping with traditions of civility and discourse on the blogosphere – one of whose supposed advantages is that authors of posts are meant to link to the sources from which they derive their conclusions so the readers can judge for themselves. That’s why blogs are supposed to promote better and more rational debate than op/ed pieces which are purely opinion.

  15. sophie says:

    OK, Mark. Here goes:
    websites:
    Anarchist Archives:
    dwardmac.pitzer/edu/Anarchist_Archives
    Anarchy Movement:
    http://www.anarchy_movement.org/anarchist
    Anarchy for Anyone: http://www.cat.org.au/a4a/index.html
    Anarchist Black Cross: http://www.anarchistblackcross.org
    Anarchist Black Cross Federation: http://www.abcf.net
    Books:
    reading extracts from Peter Kropotkin, Mikhail Bakunin and others. Reading newspapers and magazines of the time reporting events. Reading Ashton-Wolfe(just on Bonnot) Reading general historical overviews of the time, such as found in Norman Davies, Eric Hobsbawn and more.
    It is amazing to me how modern many of the accounts of this time feel. Same debates about how the State tries to combat terrorism, same worries, same attempts at finding solutions.I just think it’s worth exploring this whole idea further.
    If the anarchists are so non-violent as is claimed, then how exactly do they think their revolution to overthrow all authority is going to come about?

  16. Rob says:

    “Violence and politics go hand in hand. Yes.”

    Is that a general statement, Mark? Not in liberal democracies, I would have thought.

    Or was that an ironic comment on my comment?

    There’s nothing wrong with Sophie’s post and I don’t see what’s in it that has managed to rattle your cage.

    You’ve posted plenty of stuff that I’ve thought was pure opinion. Citing writers who obligingly agree with you doesn’t mean it’s not still your opinion.

  17. Who says it’s rattled my cage, Rob?

    Yes, violence in politics go hand in hand in liberal democracies too – remember Weber’s definition of the state as the territorial monopolist of violence. And liberal democracies have typically been instituted by violence – eg the French and American revolutions and often through anti-colonial wars.

    Your general position, Rob, would also have to concede that “freedom” was brought to Iraq through violence – ie war.

    Sophie – Kropotkin actually saw a libertarian community emerging from progressive change, and the Spanish anarchists in the Civil War were only violent in defence of a legitimate regime against Franco’s fascists. There’s a counter example for every one you cite.

    Most modern anarchists do not see violence as a productive or ethical way to bring about social change.

    But if you or your readers are seriously interested in all this, I’d urge you to read Sheehan’s book.

    I don’t have the time to go further into it – meeting a friend for dinner in half an hour so I’d best choof off.

  18. harry says:

    Sorry, Rob for being boring, but I am going to nitpick you.

    “In that sense it is perfectly legitimate to talk of Islamic terrorism as containing elements of anarchism.”
    Sophie was talking both specifically and generally about anarchism. This leads to comprehension problems. Either talk about anarchism as anarchism OR talk about anarchistic practises in general. Even then I can’t see how using ‘anarchist’ in a general way helps when far more accurate terms are available eg Islamic terorism. When she writes about the anarchistic side of Al Qaeda she means the part where they violently overthrow societies and that is all. This is over simplification and wrong and therefore throws any conclusion into profound doubt.

    “I don’t think it’s an effective rebuttal to return to the guiding texts of anarchism and say, ‘no, it’s not’.”
    It’s how we agree on what we’re talking about Rob.

    “That would be rather like contemplating what happened at Tiannenmen Square and saying, ‘that’s not socialism in action’. Of course it is.””
    Err? No it’s not! This is a case of oversimplification to the point of uselessness. So, one of the precepts of Socialism is that you must run people over in tanks?
    Come on!

    Sorry Sophie and Ken, but I am inclined to agree with Bill Posters. You need a rewrite.

  19. Rob says:

    Your thinking seems a bit muddled there. We were, as I understood it, talking about political violence, that is, violence to further a political end – not the kind of violence the state reserves to itself to protect its territory and people from attack or invasion.

    And arguing that either the French or American revolutions instituted a system of liberal democracy is historically very dubious. What flowed from the French, as you will be well aware, was a period of tyranny known as the reign of terror, followed by the Napoleonic period of imperial autocracy, followed by the restitution of the monarchy.

    The American revolution brought the American nation into existence on the basis of freedom and enterprise and its passage toward liberal democracy was speedier because of those founding principles. But it didn’t happen overnight either.

    I think it’s a fundamental principle of liberal democracy that there is a collective commitment to avoid using violence for political ends.

  20. Rob says:

    “Err? No it’s not! This is a case of oversimplification to the point of uselessness. So, one of the precepts of Socialism is that you must run people over in tanks?”

    But, harry, that’s exactly my point. Of course it’s not in any of the textbooks, any more than the gulag was. It’s the way socialsim worked in practice, and that’s the real test, not what it says in theory.

    I don’t think concentration camps were mentioned in Mein Kampf but you’d be pretty brave to say they were not the way Nazism panned out in practice. they were the consequence of the practical application of a political theory, like the tanks running over students in Beijing.

  21. sophie says:

    By the way, forgot to mention a v.important one I read too–Orwell’s Homage to Catalonia.
    Mark, Harry, this is a blog not an academic journal, incidentally. And you’re not my lecturer or my tutor. And Rob’s right–you post opinion just as much, Mark, as I do. That’s fine. That’s what blogs are for.
    However I do read around things quite extensively. My opinion differs from yours, Mark, Harry, Bill. That doesn’t mean you–or I–are stupid or ill-informed, just that we think differently.

  22. Rob says:

    Furthermore, how many people on the left would let an apologist for capitalism get away with the argement that poverty and exploitation are not characteristics of capitalism because they are not called for as part of the system in the works of Adam Smith or Hayek or whoever?

    Drifting OT again, Ken, I’m sorry.

  23. Cybrludite says:

    Anarchism is just another failed utopian pipe-dream, still popular with kids who don’t know better & true believers too set in their ways to change.

    Have a look at true anarchies, Afghanistan between the exit of the Soviets & the rise of the Taliban, the midwestern border states during the US Civil War, much of modern Sub-Saharan Africa, and tell me if you’d move your family into any of them. Your food is what you can hunt, grow or scrounge. Your medical support is limited to what folks in your group know. Your security is what’s packed in your holster or slung over your shoulder. And you’ll loose it all as soon as someone bigger, meaner, and better armed comes along. And there’s always someone bigger, meaner or better armed out there… That’s anarchy in practice.

    Don’t give me the old “But it hasn’t been tried by the right people yet!” horse-pocky, either. Socialism went there and did that, with the result of over a hundred million graves to show for it.

  24. Nabakov says:

    “I think it’s a fundamental principle of liberal democracy that there is a collective commitment to avoid using violence for political ends.”

    Nice to see the world “liberal” used as a commendation and not a condemnation for a change.

    Look, all political theories are great in theory. But they always fuck up to some extent or another in practice.

    When Marx and Engels set out to free the proletariat from the tyranny of the market, they didn’t see the disgusting fuckup of Stalinism or Maosim coming.

    The POUM et al in Spain also started with the best intentions and not with any plan to end up shooting eachother in the head. In the shattered Europe after WW1, that futurism-inspired Italian invention, faciism, seemed like welcome stability and bright new future to many.

    And while capitalism is the most efficient algorithm yet for allocating resources, I’m sure what’s left of Bhopal would like to have some serious discussions about cost-benefit ratios with Union Carbide.

    The fact a great writer, (Joe Conrad), choose to make an anarchist the villain (The Secret Agent) during a time in human history when the mass media was coming of age, didn’t help any more understanding of that political philosophy.

    All political theories are just that. Great in theory but as Goethe said, “Life is green and theory grey”

  25. Rob and Sophie, point taken – when I get the urge, I’ll post on anarchism over at my place.

  26. “Anarchism is just another failed utopian pipe-dream, still popular with kids who don’t know better & true believers too set in their ways to change.

    Have a look at true anarchies, Afghanistan between the exit of the Soviets & the rise of the Taliban”

    Anarchy = no State.

    That’s not the same as no government – it means government by democratic participation.

    “Anarchy” does not mean disorder. It means order determined by individuals working together without a sovereign power.

    Cybrludite, you’re just reproducing a furphy as old as Aristotle.

    I honestly wonder why I bother participating in these threads. I think I’ll leave the defence of anarchism to Jason if he comes back since his libertarian capitalist position won’t automatically be stigmatised as “Leftist” and therefore “violent” or “responsible for all the horrors of the Twentieth Century” or whatever the usual Troppo spiel is these days.

    Au revoir.

  27. Ken Parish says:

    “I honestly wonder why I bother participating in these threads. I think I’ll leave the defence of anarchism to Jason if he comes back since his libertarian capitalist position won’t automatically be stigmatised as “Leftist” and therefore “violent” or “responsible for all the horrors of the Twentieth Century” or whatever the usual Troppo spiel is these days.”

    Cyberludite’s contributions were a tad moronic, but hardly typical of this thread or Troppo commenters in general. My own view is that, amidst all the (frequently tiresome) left-right labelling, you actually get continuously challenged here in a way that seldom occurs on a blog where you surround yourself with like-minded admirers. The latter provides a comfort zone that’s lacking here, but the lack is quite deliberate.

    I think most readers would conclude (and you’ve in part conceded) that Rob and Sophie responded cogently to your challenge, and in the process you’ve jointly created a thread that has been significantly more interesting to read than its initial somewhat “shoot from the hip” nature portended. And that’s the whole point of maintaining a dialectic tension: you frequently give each other the shits but produce enlightenment and entertainment in the process.

    I agree that Kevin Donnelly’s education posts signally failed to achieve that aspiration, mostly because of his obtuse failure to engage with opponents’ arguments, but they are the exception rather than the rule.

  28. sophie says:

    Thanks,Nabs, for those reading tips. I’ll look out for those authors. And yes, it is a fascinating project–I’m finding it very interesting indeed, to delve into all the streams of thought, custom, events of the time. I love researching for books; you learn so much and you get exposed to a whole lot of new ideas and insights…
    And I totally agree with the sentiment of life is green, theory grey…
    Mark, I don’t understand what you mean by claiming that anarchy=no State which you say doesn’t mean no government, but govt by democratic participation. That’s called liberal democracy. That’s what we’ve got now. It’s not what the anarchists of the late 19th and early 20th cent were talking about or even anarchists now, on any of the websites I read. They want to overthrow our society, which they consider corrupt(whether by violent means like the anarchist terrorists of the past, or by some other, undefined means) as it is and go back to what they consider to be the true state of man, the Garden of Eden, where the lion shall lie down with the lamb. It’s the gospel of Jean-Jacques, and frankly, I don’t see how that wish to get back into the Garden differs from the millenial utopianism of religious fundamentalists of all faiths, including the violent ones like Al-Qaeda.
    And how do you have ‘no State’ and yet a government? Isn’t it a contradiction in terms?

  29. Glen says:

    Sophie, government without a State? Theory wise, well you could begin with Foucault’s notion of the ‘governmental’ work your way from there. Example wise, the UN.

    And Mark, Sophie’s question (“was it the anarchists who really spawned the violent and terrifying twentieth century, and the convulsions which tore it apart?”) is perfectly legitimate if you take a conservative view of an ordered history and imagine that a time period is being torn apart by elements of disorder. It makes perfect sense, from this perspective, to focus on the disorder and the violence that produced it through an attempt to draw a red thread throughout diverse historical examples so as to generate a consistency between them that doesn’t really move beyond the purely superficial.

    Sophie, to make yet another hard and fast distinction, you seem to be arguing that the only similarity between the anarchists and islamic fundamentalist terrorists is the reactionary desires which drove and drives mainly young people into their ranks. And yet the anarchists were ‘revolutionary’ — if we understand the term as applying to any form of insurrection against one’s own government. The terrorists are driven by reactionary desires because they attack ‘others’ that threaten the theocracies to which they belong.

  30. Jason Soon says:

    I think Sophie is failing to distinguish between people who just want to overthrow the existing order for whatever reason (and sometimes that reason is to replace it with something far more tyrannical) and people who think some form of ‘polyarchy’ is feasible. That’s how anarchy should be interpreted – governance without compulsion, people free to leave and form their own orders. left anarchists believe that somehow this polyarchy will naturally tend towards people wanting to naturally live in the equivalent of kibbutzes, pooling resources, eliminating competition, sharing duties and so on. They believe that absent government, even property rights, the urge to trade and accumulate and compete would disappear. Right anarchists (or anarcho-capitalists) who I believe are more consistent (though I don’t endorse their ideas) believe that absent government, property rights and trade would spontaneously evolve anyway. If one carries the principle of subsidiarity in federalism far enough then one ends up with anarchism i.e. governance without the State. If for instance most powers are devolved to cantons where one is free to pack up and leave and move to another canton that better matches one’s preferences then this is only a difference in degree from the right anarchists’ idea of competing private governments

  31. Jason Soon says:

    I should add that I believe that anarchism of whichever of the forms I have described, left or right, is a beautiful dream but not a realistic one. But Sophie who presumably is familiar with the feudal system should be the last person to be asking how governance can exist without a central Leviathan to compel – national governments as we know them did not emerge fully formed but evolved because of the efforts of political entrepreneurs like King Henry who gradually monopolised what used to be competing spheres of power.
    Anarchism in practice would probably resemble feudalism as it was in the middle ages with various landowners and the church vying for dominance.

  32. Gerry says:

    Mark, YOU GET BACK IN HERE NOW, BOY !!!

    Just becasue i wasn’t commenting doesn’t mean I wasn’t enjoying what you were writing.

    You do realise that if you stop commenting here, we’ll all come over to your blog and comment there…

    Surely you understand the benefits of quarantine…? :-)

    Signed: Your Nemisis

  33. sophie says:

    Thanks, Jason, for those interesting comments. And Glen too. It seems to me there are some serious inconsistencies in the whole anarchy thing, however.
    Glen implies that Islamist terrorists can’t be anarchists cos they’re not revolutionaries but reactionaries; well, sorry, but the Islamist terrorists are indeed revolutionaries–they want to overthrow the existing order and replace it with something they consider purer. So do anarchists. And if Jason’s right, and anarchy in practice would most ressemble feudalism, then how can anarchists not be ‘reactionaries’ as well as ‘revolutionaries’ every bit as much as the Islamists?
    If all anarchists are about is replacing the nation-state, that’s one thing. But then wouldn’t they be internationalists, wanting to replace the nation-Stare with a supra-State, a ‘world government’ such as a pumped-up UN? I don’t get that feeling from reading anarchist literature. I think they appear to think that if only you get rid of the appurtenances of power–if you get rid of officialdom–you’ll end up with some pure Edenic state of being. And the big mistake of the anarchist terrorists of the past was that they thought of human life and human affairs as schematic and symbolic–that if you assassinated a State official or head–like the Tsar of Russia, the Empress of Austria, the PM of France, the Us President, the King of Italy and many many more, you somehow empowered ‘real’ humanity because you were destroying a symbol. What most people saw however were bones and blood and flesh scattered far and wide, and an attack at the very heart of the safety of peoples.
    The anarchists may have thought they were going to shock the state into dissolving itself; similarly, Al Qaeda thought they’d shock the US into crumbling. They thought a lot about the symbolism of their acts in a symbolic, abstract sort of way, and not on the real consequences in the real world.

  34. Rob says:

    Pace Sophie, maybe it’s not that helpful to think in terms of revolutionaries and reactionaries as much as in terms of romantics and rationalists. The romantics think symbolically: whether it’s UBL thinking that a symbolic attack on the World Trade Centre would bring down the American ‘hegemon’ , or Baader-Meinhof thinking that the symbolic execution of AMEX executives would topple the capitalist structure – in either case by delivering a salutary and overwhelming shock to the ‘system’, which would then, if things followed their proper path, obligingly collapse. There’s a madness about it that is nonetheless compelling if you’re prepared to make the leap into complete illogic. I don’t know if it’s an Edenic dream, but it’s a dream of a perfect world in which power is the pathway to the end, not the end in itself. If that’s not what anarchism is, as it defines itself, it’s arguable that it’s what the anarchistic impulse is.

    Professional revolutionaries like Lenin, Ho Chi Minh and Mao Zedong, on the other hand, were far colder – more grey, in Goethe’s sense, perhaps? No room for dreams (or delusions). They were supremely rational. Organisation, graft, cunning, enforcement and persuasion were what they were about and what they were best at. And they had a body of theory to back them up that would make your teeth bleed. In their case I think the end was power – the achievement of total power and the exercise of it. They murdered millions, but not because they hated them; because they were inconvenient, rationally speaking.

    The difference? The romantics seem to have killed far fewer people in hot blood than the rationalists did in cold. Hitler, who had a foot in either camp, did pretty well on both counts. Mussolini, on the other hand – a former anarcho-syndicalist, be it remembered – did much less damage.

  35. Fyodor says:

    Sophie,

    I think the following point from Jason is worth repeating:

    “I think Sophie is failing to distinguish between people who just want to overthrow the existing order for whatever reason (and sometimes that reason is to replace it with something far more tyrannical) and people who think some form of ‘polyarchy’ is feasible. That’s how anarchy should be interpreted – governance without compulsion, people free to leave and form their own orders.”

    That is, “true” anarchists have as their goal the elimination of governing institutions and power structures. There can be violent anarchists and peaceful anarchists, but to dub all violent revolutionaries and reactionaries “anarchists” is plainly inaccurate.

    Furthermore, Al Qaeda and other Islamic terrorists are plainly not anarchists because their goal is some form of theocratic government, compliant with their interpretation of traditional Islamic law. OBL is NOT interested in anarchy.

    I agree with Jason that anarchy is a pipe-dream, namely because humans are social creatures with innate political and hierarchical tendencies that make the egalitarian political structure required by anarchism impossible to implement and/or sustain. The feudal and theocratic political structures mentioned by Jason are inherently hierarchic and cannot in any sense be termed anarchic.

  36. Jason Soon says:

    I think Rob is taking this discussion into Freeper land. Why is Ho Chi Minh, who, like Washington, fought a war of national liberation against an unrepresentative and corrupt government, being dragooned into the company of Mao? Why is it relevant that Mussolini used to be an anarcho-syndicalist? What on earth is Hitler doing in a discussion on anarchism? The fact that the collapse of the State would in all probability lead to feudalism doesn’t make anarchists pro-feudalist anymore than the fact that Bush’s intervention leading to the establishment of an Islamist government in Iraq make Bush an Islamist (on second thoughts). It just means that both are foolish dreamers who don’t fully understand the consequences of their actions. If anarchists really had their way (and that includes this miraculous transformation in human nature that left-anarchists envisage with the withering away of the Capitalist State) then there would be no abuses of power, period.

  37. harry says:

    Sophie,
    I think Mark has convincingly showed how Cybrludite’s use of the word ‘anarchy’ was inaccurate and nothing more than a term of convenience. Which was the whole reason for my initial gripe with Sophie’s piece.
    ‘Revolutionaries’ would have been a better term to use than ‘anarchists’.

    “Mark, Harry, this is a blog not an academic journal, incidentally. ”
    Your audience is a mixture of academics, theorists and enthusiastic amateurs.

    “And you’re not my lecturer or my tutor.”
    I am better than that. I am your reader, critic and contributor.

    “And Rob’s right–you post opinion just as much, Mark, as I do. That’s fine. That’s what blogs are for.”
    Opinions are worthless if they can’t be defended, Sophie. You can’t produce a leaderpost and not defend it.
    This blog is where ideas are tested – that means attack and defense. You cannot deflect my criticism (ie your use of the term anarchism was an oversimplification and inaccurate) by simply saying “Oh, it’s a blog – it doesn’t have to be academically perfect.”

  38. harry says:

    Rob,

    You have written that running over people in tanks is part of socialism; concentration camps were instrinsic parts of Nazism; and poverty is an intrinsic part of capitalism; simply because that is what happened.

    That is illogical. This is no different than saying exploding space shuttles are essential events in the field of celestial exploration.

    There are always boundless possiblities and most of them fall outside the scope of theory due to their nature.
    The space shuttles exploded due to a flaw in maintenance. ‘Maintenance’ is not part of the theory of ‘Celestial Exploration’.
    ‘Paranoid powerhungry autocratic rulers of the 1980s with a strong tradition of feudalism’ is not part of the theory of ‘Socialism’.
    ‘Poverty’ is anathema to the theory of ‘Capitalism’.

  39. Rafe says:

    Harry is correct to suggest that revolutionaries would have been a better term than anarchists, because there are at least two very different kinds of anarchists as Jason described. There are the Jacobins, reflex and revolutionary, and others who have a coherent and principled opposition to government as we know it. A strong case for the principled type of anarchism can be found in a fairly recent book by Jan Lester “Escape from Leviathan. His case convinced me, although minimum state liberalism is a more realistic position to hold for the time being, as a step in the appropriate direction without being utopian. An extended summary of Lester’s book can be found at http://www.mises.org/fullstory.asp?control=648&FS=Escape%2Bfrom%2BLeviathan.

  40. Jason Soon says:

    “His case convinced me, although minimum state liberalism is a more realistic position to hold for the time being,”

    Rafe, you closet bomb thrower!

  41. sophie says:

    Harry, all the anarchist terrorists of the late 19th cent/early 20th cent I was talking about–the ones who murdered prime ministers, kings, emperors, state officials, who robbed banks and planted bombs–were self-professed, self-described anarchists whose professed aim was the bringing about the end of the old world and the advent of anarchy itself, and who were applauded by many anarchists of the time, though certainly not all. It was not a term of convenience, actually, at all. If you deny they were anarchists–because you don’t like the things they did, then that’s your problem, not theirs, and not mine. I accept they were anarchists if that’s what they said they were; do you know better? I suggest you might like to read the documents, articles, and books of the time to get a real feel for what was going on. Incidentally, I’m not wedded to the idea Al Qaeda are anarchists–I know they certainly wouldn’t describe themselves as such. But they do have anarchistic impulses and methods, if not philosophies. But I know it’s by no stretch of the imagination a perfect analogy, just an interesting lateral-minded notion, that’s all.
    My post was really about the idea that the anarchist terrorism of the 1890’s and 1900’s helped to create a certain climate which resulted in the cataclysms of the 20th cent. Think about it; a constant climate of fear and outrage as democratic as well as autocratic politicians find themselves under constant anarchistic threat, weakening these countries; the First World War, trigged by an anarchist’s bullet(if gleefully seized on as a good excuse by imperial powers)turning into a hideous referendum on the old world, turning all too many surviving men into so many anarchists and revolutionaries of all stripes, ending in the titanic clash of Fascism/Nazism, liberal democracy and Communism. OK, it’s an idea whose elegant consistency can be wildly overstated, and I’m making no absolute claims for it. It’s just that it was for me a shift in the way I’ve seen the history of modern times, and that it’s made me explore all kinds of ideas I otherwise might never have looked at.
    Harry, it’s not just attack and defense we need, some kind of adversarial system–but evaluation, taking things seriously enough to consider engaging before just engaging in blanket attacks because I seem to have offended people’s cherished notions of just what anarchy is.
    Incidentally, an interesting sidelight is provided on the whole thing in Thomas Carlyle’s extraordinary book on the French Revolution. He talks of Anarchy as being like the Greek Furies..and of the birth of Revolution as itself being disimprisoned Anarchy, bursting out from the deep..
    You can’t tell me that that thrill of destruction, that joy of destruction, the grandeur of the destructive gesture, is not in itself at the most essential heart of political anarchism. Certainly it was for those people I was talking about, who wanted to see an end to the old world.
    The more peaceful, world-retreating ‘lifestyle anarchism’ of communards, Anabaptists, and the like, depends for its survival and protection on the society around it actually not being anarchistic, but able to defend physically if need be those communities.

  42. Ok, I’m sorry for spitting the dummy. Danger of late night commenting, I’m afraid. Cybrludite really annoyed me – not because of incivility but because the sort of distortions that his comment epitomised.

  43. harry says:

    Okay, well did you want us to pick at it or not?

  44. Gaby says:

    Barbara Tuchman’s “The Proud Tower” is an interesting and engaging book on the end of “La Belle Epoque”. It has an interesting chapter on the anarchists of that time.

  45. Fyodor says:

    Welcome back, Kotter.

    Sophie,

    Could you please provide some examples of assassinations etc. that were motivated by anarchism? The one example you did cite, the assassination of Archduke Franz-Ferdinand by Gavrilo Princip, a Bosnian Serb, doesn’t count. He was a nationalist who wanted Bosnia merged with Serbia (sound familiar?). He was not an anarchist.

    I’m beginning to suspect the problem in this dialogue is that you are reading accounts of revolutionary acts that are described by their conservative contemporaries as “anarchist”, when in reality they were revolutionary. 19th century Europe was intensely reactionary, and threats to the ancien regime were often portrayed as anarchistic, often because the ideology opposed to the current form of government (typically absolutist monarchy) was simply assumed to be motivated by extreme nihilism/anarchism. This does not make the characterisation correct. I doubt that many of the revolutionary acts had a truly anarchistic aim at all.

    As for Al Qaida, the only “anarchist” aspect to the organisation is its unusually high degree of decentralisation of authority. Its aims, however, are utterly at odds with anarchistic ideology.

    P.S. I recommend the Erast Fandorin books by Boris Akunin if you’re interested in late 19th century European sleuthing. Young Fandorin is always sniffing out anarchists and nihilists for the Tsar. The first novel in the series is “The Winter Queen”.

  46. wen says:

    Coincidentally, my novel recounts an anarchist assassination too — I’d forgotten all about it, until I read your post, Sophie.

    Taken from a fictional diary entry — but the substance is straight from The Age (including the demise of poor Fred!)

    “August 1st, 1900

    A dreadful occurence yesterday. One of the porters at Sth Yarra station, Fred – a Dane who moved here only a few years ago – fell beneath a train and was killed. His wife had recently given birth to twin girls, and he was always full of stories about their progress. Such a proud, loving father – a good, sweet man. There is to be a collection for the widow and babies, poor things.

    Reported in todays paper & just adjacent to a paragraph about poor Fred, was the report of King Humbert’s assassination by Anarchists. Such an odd juxtaposition: the tiny space allotted Fred, the several columns & great bold headlines given to the king. His last words reported – “It is nothing!” His wife’s anguish recorded: “It is the greatest crime of the century… Humbert was a good and faithful man.” Sentiments that would no doubt be echoed by poor Fred’s wife, if she were only to be asked…”

    Anyway, there’s one, Fyodor.

  47. Fyodor says:

    Wen,

    Good get – I had to consult Wiki on that one. I’m guessing the King Humbert you refer to is Umberto I of Italy, assassinated by the “anarchist”, Gaetano Bresci in 1900. However, Bresci was apparently also a socialist, and he described his assassination of the Italian King as revenge for Umberto’s decoration of a general notorious for massacring civilians protesting the price of bread. Not sure how to call that one, but I’m leaning on the side of personal motive (i.e. revenge) rather than ideology (i.e. anarchism).

    Any others?

  48. Evil Pundit says:

    Fyodor, since you’re evidently too ignorant or lazy to answer your own question, I’ve created this handy link for you:

    http://www.google.com.au/search?hl=en&q=anarchist+assassination&btnG=Google+Search&meta=

  49. sophie says:

    Fyodor, here’s a list of the most prominent victims of anarchist assasins:
    Tsra Alexander II of Russia(1881); president Sadi Carnot of France(1894); Empress Elizabeth of Austria(1896) President Canovas del Castillo of Spain(1897)King Umberto I of Italy(1900.)There were many more of less prominent people’ these were the most spectacular ones.
    I’m afraid all these assassinations were not only described as inspired by anarchism, they were claimed as such by the killers themselves. They were following what the anarchist polemicist Enrico Maletesta described as ‘the propaganda of the deed.’
    The case of Jules Bonnot in France in 1911 too was most defintely an anarchist one. He actually proclaimed it as such. Ravachol was another prominent anarchist agitator and bandit in France.
    You need to actually read up the accounts of the time and what people were saying. The anarchist bogy wasn’t an imagined thing. It was as real as Islamist terrorism. Violent anarchism had developed out of the less violent variety, following the teachings of people like Kropotkin and Maletesta(and also out of annoyance with the more cautious Marxists and socialists). These sorts of people were not concerned with just talking; they wanted to commit spectacular acts of murder which they thought would shatter the nerves of the elite and break the power of the State.
    I’ve heard of Boris Akunin’s novels, Fyodor, and have for some time meant to read them. They sounded great. Now I must get them!

  50. sophie says:

    Oh, and sorry, forgot also the assassination of Us President William McKinley in 1901, by a Czech anarchist.

  51. Ken Parish says:

    Wikipedia has quite good, well hyperlinked articles on King Humbert (Umberto the Good) and his anarchist assassin Gaetano Bresci. See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Humbert_I_of_Italy and http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gaetano_Bresci . I must confess I hadn’t heard of either of them until Sophie mentioned them, but it’s a wonderful story, and provides some marginal support for Sophie’s broader hypothesis. Poor old Umberto was subjected to two earlier and unsuccessful assassination attempts before the one that finally succeeded, the first by a bloke named Passanante and the second by another chap named Acciarito who apparently WAS an anarchist (although see http://recollectionbooks.com/bleed/Encyclopedia/AcciaritoPietro.htm – he might just have been anti-authority and a bit mad, but without any clearly articulated anarchist philosophy). Incidentally, the last linked article draws this parallel between Acciarito and Passanante:

    “At their trial, Acciarito’s five supposed accomplices were found not guilty as the only evidence against them was Acciarito’s statement made under extreme duress. Acciarito, however, was found guilty of attempted regicide and sentenced to life imprisonment. While in solitary confinement, he went insane. He was then transferred to the same asylum as the assassin Giovanni Passannante, where he lived out the remainder of his life. The same eugenicists who examined Passannante’s brain concluded that because Acciarito’s head was oval-shaped, he was predisposed to assassination.”

    It’s as well to remember that there were numerous currents disturbing (or reinforcing) the relaxed and comfortable attitudes of the middle classes in the last decade of the 19th and first of the twentieth. They included not only anarchism, but early marxism, the early labour movement, eugenics, Darwinian theory and so on. These were times of political ferment and intellectual turmoil on a range of fronts.

  52. As Ken says, there was a lot of turmoil and ferment around.

    Sophie, I’m still puzzled by how you think anarchist assassinations led to instability which then led to the horrors of the Twentieth Century.

    I just don’t see the logic in this argument.

  53. harry says:

    “Fyodor, since you’re evidently too ignorant or lazy to answer your own question…”

    Well, EP, his post history says that he is neither.
    I thought it was extremely obvious what he was doing. He is argueing over a definition of ‘anarchist’ with Sophie.
    The best thing to do is to find out what Sophie’s definition is and then challenge it if he so feels.

  54. Fyodor says:

    Thanks, EP, you’re too kind. That Google thingey is really helpful, isn’t it? So many pages (79,200) to read, however, for one so lazy as me. Be a dear and read them for me, would you? That’s a good pundit.

  55. Evil Pundit says:

    Fyodor attempted to attack Sophie’s credibility by challenging her to name some assassinations carried out by anarchists, or in the name of anarchy. A simple Google search would quickly have demonstrated that there were many such events around the turn of the century – just as Sophie claimed.

    Fyodor was therefore caught in his own trap — an attempt to paint someone else as ignorant ended up with him playing the part of fool. He is not new to this role.

  56. Glen says:

    Sophie wrote:
    “Incidentally, I’m not wedded to the idea Al Qaeda are anarchists–I know they certainly wouldn’t describe themselves as such. But they do have anarchistic impulses and methods, if not philosophies. But I know it’s by no stretch of the imagination a perfect analogy, just an interesting lateral-minded notion, that’s all.”

    Sophie also wrote:
    “You do well to remind me of the 60’s and 70’s anarchists, Harry, which I should have mentioned. I did think of that period but forgot the SLA, thinking of Baader Meinhof, Red Army, etc, which strictly speaking I suppose weren’t anarchists, but Marxists.”

    Inconsistency above, no? Describing anarchism as a practise-based tendency rather than as a political position is what seems to be annoying a few people. Why can’t you have a practise-based tendency derived from Marxism? ie so-and-so is a bit marxist.

    Hmmm, about the reactionary versus revolutionary (which I am deriving from D&G btw). From what I have read about old Osama, he attacked the US because he felt that his homeland and parent culture (religion) were being attacked. For example:
    http://www.adl.org/terrorism_america/bin_l.asp

    I was basing my use of the term ‘reactionary’ on the idea that the current wave of Islamic fundamentalist terrorism was primarily premised on the (stupid) belief that their religion was under threat. If he was revolutionary, then he would be attacking the necessary conditions which reproduce the current state of affairs in Saudi Arabia, not trying to reproduce it elsewhere. That is the kind of distinction I was making.

    Your counter-argument seems to be almost Empire-esque. There is a global hegemony (the US) which Osama and crew are seeking to overthrow, thus making them revolutionaries. The only problem is that they do not want to create something anew, but want to reproduce the current state of affairs found in theocracies. Hence they are reactionaries.

  57. harry says:

    EP,
    Not if the sources she’s citing are ones written at the time – which as Fyodor pointed out, inaccurately named general reactionaries and revolutionaries as Anarchic.

    The next step in Fyodor’s line of debate is to ask how those highlighted assasinations lead to the turmoil of the twentieth century (which is what Sophie has claimed), as Mark has done.

    Honestly, should I hold your hand the whole way through?

  58. Evil Pundit says:

    Since the first step in Fyodor’s line of debate has led to him falling flat on his face in such a spectacularly entertaining manner, I eagerly await the next step.

  59. Fyodor says:

    EP,

    Thanks for your valuable contributions to the debate so far. However, you’ve misjudged my intentions towards Sophie. Not surprisingly, you attribute malice where there is none. I suggest that’s a fault in your character, not mine.

    As Harry correctly pointed out, my intention was to work out which terrorist acts Sophie has been researching that can actually be attributed to anarchist ideology. I’m working through her list now. Feel free to contribute. Maybe something on Sweden. Or sperm theft. That’s gotta be anarchistic, hasn’t it?

  60. Rob says:

    Jason, what or where is Freeper land?

    “Sophie, I’m still puzzled by how you think anarchist assassinations led to instability which then led to the horrors of the Twentieth Century.”

    Mark, Sophie didn’t say that – she *wondered* if it did. So do I.

    Harry, I would reply to your rejoinder if I could understand it (no offence). Is it really illogical to regard concentration camps as intrisic to the nature of Nazism?

    It strikes me that Sophie’s broad, impressionistic canvas is too rich and colourful for some of the literalists here.

    (Having thrown my anarchist’s bomb – hehe! – I take flight, not a la Mark, but for the more simple and pragmatic reason that I have a 12-hour shift to get through.)

  61. Jason Soon says:

    Freeper land = FreeRepublic.com

  62. Rob, you write:

    “Mark, Sophie didn’t say that – she *wondered* if it did. So do I.”

    Yes, but you need a plausible basis on which to wonder. I’d like to see it spelt out.

    How’s Francesca? :)

  63. Rob says:

    She’s well, Mark, but I’ve not had the heart to try out Liam’s cure for chair scratching just yet.

    I don’t think wondering requires any basis at all other than the natural tendency of an enquiring mind.

    Sadly, must depart. You have no idea how welcome a Central Australian sunrise can be.

  64. harry says:

    Sophie,
    I have been thinking about Mark’s puzzlement as to how you link anarchic (or even the non-anarchic) assasinations to the tumult of the twentieth century.

    The easiest ones to look at will be the biggies: ww1 and ww2.

    WW1 was essentially a clash of the faded Imperialistic powers. The contest was primarily between the members of the Old Order: Austro-Hungary, Britain, France, Russia, Germany (Prussia). Since it was the established upper eschelons calling the shots, where do the Anarchists fit in? The trigger the various powers jumped at was the nationalistic slaying of Arch duke Ferdinand but the tensions had been simmering away. As far as the tensions that precipitated WW1 go any anarchistic tensions within these countries was unnoticable.
    Russia had it’s revolution, the Austro-hungarian and Ottoman empires dissolved and nationalists took the stage in those areas, not through anarchist ideaology but patriotism and smatterings of socialism.
    WW1 was a great patriotic war – in the face of overwhelming patriotism anarchists have nothing.

    The seeds of WW2 were planted, as everyone knows, in WW1 and the aftermath. The Weimar Republic in Germany was doomed from the outset under Reparations, spiralling inflation, embargoes and shortages. The first ripples of any size were from (naturally enough in these circumstances) Socialists/Communists. They were the ones calling for a revolution and many/most people agreed that a revolution was needed – but not a Communist one. The anti-communists mobilised and battled the commies in the streets. The Right were foremost in these battles, tacitly supported by many central/neutral Germans who wanted no truck with Communism. Hitler comes along and unites various people, allies with the traditional right whom he betrays, Fire at the Reichstag; blah di blah. The NSDAP rode into power on the back of the traditional right, not on the back of anarchists.

    Where are the anarchists?
    Where are the “birds of ill omen, [that] opened the way for tyranny”?

    General points:
    “The instability which the anarchists so gleefully and naively fostered…”
    This is wrong. Anarchists do not neccesarily want instability.
    And there is a difference between actions born out of despair, hatred, revenge and natural-justice. They aren’t often gleeful.

    “anarchists can be of both left and right, and whilst their wildness and tendency to act before they think…”
    Yeah, nice one. How about bloggers who type before they think.
    (Oh, and think carefully before taking umbrage to that.)

    You ask “was it the anarchists who really spawned the violent and terrifying twentieth century, and the convulsions which tore it apart?”
    and then follow that up with:
    “It seems they have a great knack for shooting themselves in the foot; for making grand, bloody gestures that have exactly the opposite effect to what they hope for.”
    So, are anarchists effective or not? You seem confused on the issue.
    The guy who shot King Humbert of Italy in 1900 achieved exactly nothing.
    I’m strongly leaning towards the idea that anarchists made pretty much no difference at all.

    This is a particularly fluffy statement: “In the West, anarchist groups are stirring too, perhaps seeing an opportunity in the general instability and uncertain climate , and the worries people have over the kinds of laws that are being passed by democratic governments, in their own defence against terror. ” Maybe it needs a few egg whites or facts to stiffen it up a little.

    This is a particularly bald statement:
    “After the second world war, anarchism died away again, but it seems to me it’s making a comeback. I think Al-Qaeda…”
    Well it doesn’t seem to me. Particularly when the only example to bring to bear is Al Qaeda who, as has been discussed before, aren’t anarchists.

    I think that since palm trees look a bit like ferns that biologists should treat them as tree ferns.
    Compare the above sentence with this:
    “I think Al-Qaeda and its affinity offshoots can in part at least be interpreted as having strong anarchist elements(this is why it might be useful for intelligence services to look at them in terms of the loose affinity groups of the late 19th cent/early 20th cent anarchists, rather than the tighter, more disciplined and ideological Fascists or Bolsheviks)”

    Hmmm, or maybe the intelligence services should look at them in terms of being TERRORIST ORGANISATIONS which is what they are!

    “Anarchists have infiltrated movements like the anti-globalisation movement, and the ‘stop the war’ coalition,…”
    This would be ‘bomb-throwers and assassins’ right? I mean, that is your definition of Anarchist.
    Slander usually has to be backed up by at least a *modicum* of proof, Sophie.

    “Saudi Arabia, … an autocratic regime which has fatal weaknesses, and is vulnerable to anarchist terrorist attack–which could be followed by a much worse thing, an ideology which has used the violence of the anarchists to achieve the goal of destabilising the State, but which has Statist ambitions of its own (can’t see who that might be yet, but it could be Iranian-inspired, perhaps).”
    So anarchists invented volience? I thought you said that Anarchists were invented in the French Revolution. I am sure we have had violence before that – even from groups with ‘statist ambitions’.

    In terms of the tumultuous twentieth century the actions of a few are as nothing to the inaction of thousands.

  65. Ken Parish says:

    Just connectinging this post with Mark’s and mine on Antonio Negri, it’s worth observing that Hardt and Negri’s new book Multitude (which I haven’t read) seems to have distinctly anarchistic overtones (as opposed to communistic ones). See the reviews at http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/1594200246/103-0760192-3287047, and in particular:

    “Now, in Multitude, Hardt and Negri offer up an inspiring vision of how the people of the world can use the structures of empire against empire itself. With the enormous intellectual depth, historical perspective, and positive, enabling spirit that are the authors’ hallmark, Multitude lays down in three parts a powerful case for hope. Part I, “War,” examines the darkest aspects of empire. We are at a crisis point in human affairs, when the new circuits of power have grown beyond the ability of existing circuits of political sovereignty and social justice to contain them. A mind-set of perpetual war predominates in which all wars are police actions and all police actions are wars-counterinsurgencies against the enemies of empire. In Part II, the book’s central section, “Multitude,” they explain how empire, by colonizing and interconnecting more areas of human life ever more deeply, has actually created the possibility for democracy of a sort never before seen. Brought together in a multinoded commons of resistance, different groups combine and recombine in fluid new matrices of resistance. No longer the silent, oppressed “masses,” they form a multitude. Hardt and Negri argue that the accelerating integration of economic, social, political, and cultural forces into a complex network they call the biopolitical is actually the most radical step in the liberation of humankind since the Industrial Revolution broke up the old feudal order. Finally, in “Democracy,” the authors put forward their agenda for how the global multitude can form a robust biopolitical commons in which democracy can truly thrive on a global scale. Exhilarating in its ambition, range, and depth of interpretive insight, Multitude consolidates Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri’s stature as the most exciting and important political philosophers at work in the world today.”

    Sort of the Indymedia crowd and radical bloggers as bringers of the New Millenium Paradise. Silly but entertaining.

  66. Rob, that was my problem with Bec’s cat. I just couldn’t bring myself to spray the poor thing with water…

  67. ps – agree with Harry.

  68. harry says:

    Rob,
    ” I would reply to your rejoinder if I could understand it (no offence).”
    None taken. No problem. Maybe I am the one not understanding you?

    “[Who] would let an apologist for capitalism get away with the argement that poverty and exploitation are not characteristics of capitalism because they are not called for as part of the system in the works of Adam Smith or Hayek or whoever?”
    # What is there to “get away with”? They are characteristics of our system at the moment, but they are not part of the theory of Capitalism. This is the truth. You don’t want someone to get away with saying the truth?

    “Is it really illogical to regard concentration camps as intrisic to the nature of Nazism?”
    # We were arguing theory versus what actually happened, not nature. If what actually happened was bad then why is the theory wrong? In the theory of Nazism the subhumans would either be forced out of the Reich or used as slave labour. ‘The Final Solution’ was a completely separate idea worked out between Hitler and his top cronies once they were in power, not before.
    Were the camps intrinsic to the nature of Nazism? Well, the nature of Nazism evolved over time and changed as it came up against new challenges. For instance the Nazis saw the British as equal and compatible with the Reich. This changed to them being another people to be conquered. So, y-e-s, they were part of the nature of Nazism, but not intrinsic to it.
    Were the camps intrinsic to the theory? No.

    To go back to your first example: “I don’t think it’s an effective rebuttal to return to the guiding texts of anarchism and say, ‘no, it’s not’. That would be rather like contemplating what happened at Tiannenmen Square and saying, ‘that’s not socialism in action’. Of course it is.”

    What happened in Tiannenmen Square had nothing to do with socialist theory and nothing to do with applied socialism.
    1) The Chinese do not have a socialist system.
    2) Under a socialist system everyone has a voice.
    2b) Therefore there would be no Tiannenmen protest to get democracy because they would, QED, already have democracy.
    3) There are any number of instances of any form of government quashing desent eg the American students being fired upon when they were protesting against the vietnam war; St Petersberg in 1905 when Tsarist troops opened fire on a peaceful protest; Brownshirts breaking up communist meetings and hauling the participants off. These are 3 totally different governments to the Chinese doing the same thing to their people.
    Therefore killing your own people when they protest is an action completley unconnected to the politics of those in government.

    Socialism does not automatically mean tanks running over students.
    Capitalism does not automatically mean poverty for some.
    Nazism does not automatically mean concentration camps.

  69. Ken Parish says:

    harry

    I can’t decide whether you’re joking or not, but I fear not. A theory that goes nowhere near describing the practical reality of any given ideology can’t meaningfully be described as a theory at all. It’s just a fantasy, and a toxic one at that.

  70. Cybrludite says:

    Sorry for the slow response. Been bust at work tonight…

    Mark,

    What you describe sounds more like an informal version of Athenian-style democracy. I was using the word anarchy as it’s used by everyone who isn’t a philosophical Anarchist. (I leave activist Anarchists out of that as the nihlists of the Black Bloc act like they agree with the popular definition)

  71. Well, it’s not too much different, Cybrludite. But I fail to understand your distinction between philosophical anarchists and others.

  72. meika says:

    ahem, he mutters, as a teenage anarchism, ahem, some twenty years ago and so do not have the cite, ahem at this neo-aca blog, I read somewhere that the first archetypal cloak and bomb throwers were (likely ) to have been russian nihilists (after whom I have been told (and find hard to believe) when some moved to Victoria and set up the town of Nhil (locals cite local kooris for the name)

    the keypoint is that they were (self and others) described as Nihilists not because they advocated nothing, but because they supported nothing (Absolut!) in the Russian Autocracy,

    What did they advocate, wish for??

    Liberal representational Democracy.

    And so he adds, if anarchism caused the mess of the twentieth century, then would-be liberal democrats educated these anarchists in the love of the deed, when there is no other way possible

    now, what is it we are advocating in Iraq??

    And how have we chosen to do it??

    “There is no altenative.”

    “Anarchists made me do it.” ??

    Violence is as violence does.

    What one “believes”, and how one chooses to act are no congruent, not necessarily, to expect it is to expect too much of evolution.

    In a completely different sphere and in order to avoid Adolf, ….Russel Burbank did not believe in Mendelian Genetics at all, however most who look at his work in developing new plant varieties for field and garden note that his methods were strictly Mendelian. But his methodology/ was not.

    Did not stop him from being successfull.

    Humans tended to prefer the symbolic over the functional, this is because its easier, because like prejudice it is akin to instinct and requires less mental effort that research requires.

    Sophie’s thesis is interesting, but I do not think supportable. The question at base, is one of when and where one chooses to use violence, when one is entitled, justified, or just plain bloody minded?

    Its almost as if Sophie believes that the anarchist’s invented terror. Most blame the use of terror to mold society, on the French revolutionaries, by the state, for reasons of public safety.

    Violent anarchists were just engaging in a bit of privatisation.

    Or one could blame Cain, I guess.

    (It took a long time to read all those comments.)

  73. Rob says:

    harry, I’m sorry, but I really don’t know how to even begin to respond to your comment. We’re certainly not understanding each other.

    Of Nazism you say in part:

    “If what actually happened was bad then why is the theory wrong? In the theory of Nazism the subhumans would either be forced out of the Reich or used as slave labour. ‘The Final Solution’ was a completely separate idea ….Well, the nature of Nazism evolved over time and changed as it came up against new challenges. For instance the Nazis saw the British as equal and compatible with the Reich….they were part of the nature of Nazism, but not intrinsic to it. Were the camps intrinsic to the theory? No.”

    There seem to be about sixteen moral and intellectual somersaults in this series of statements alone and I can’t keep up with them. Happy to concede the field.

  74. Glen says:

    Ken wrote:

    “Sort of the Indymedia crowd and radical bloggers as bringers of the New Millenium Paradise. Silly but entertaining.”

    sigh. Your comment is silly and not entertaining. Perhaps you should read the book first?

    The biggest problem with the book is a glaring absence of any discussion of how there is a necessary biopolitical *collective* that constitutes the multitude. What is the nature of this collectivity? How does it exist as a multiplicity? There is also no proper discussion of the politics of sentiment that splits populations.

  75. harry says:

    Hmmm, it seems I am not explaining myself too well, especially as I have confused Ken. Sorry.
    Our point of difference is a minor one, and perhaps little more than semantics.
    I am not trying to bamboozle you, Rob.

    The only point I was making was this: Nowhere in socialist theory does it say “When faced with demonstrators crack down on them ruthlessly and brutally”. This is because, I would venture, the theory of socialism simply doesn’t deal with demonstrators. And certainly not of the ilk of the Tiannenmen Square protesters. (And a reason that it doesn’t deal with demonstrators could be because, since everyone is empowered, there will be no reason for them to demonstrate.)

    So, to conclude that socialist theory is wrong because of what happened in 1989 is illogical.

    I was not defending socialism or the Chinese version of it or what happened in Tiannenmen square or indeed anything at all.

    Ken, yes I was being serious and as an exercisew in logic and semantics I think it’s bombproof.
    “A theory that goes nowhere near describing the practical reality of any given ideology can’t meaningfully be described as a theory at all. It’s just a fantasy”
    Well, Socialism is a theory, right?
    And the theory of socialism doesn’t reflect what we have in China, right?
    So, does the fault lay with the theory of socialism not being correct or does the fault lay with the Chinese who have perverted the theory of socialism?
    Since the theory behind Socialism is to empower the people, and this is clearly not the case in China, the blame is with the Chinese, not with Socialism.
    That was the entirety of my point. I am making no value judgements nor trying to slip one under the radar. I am just arguing a point of logic.

  76. Ken Parish says:

    “Since the theory behind Socialism is to empower the people, and this is clearly not the case in China, the blame is with the Chinese, not with Socialism.”

    You are joking, surely? In the case of the revolutionary kind of socialism anyway, it hasn’t empowered the people anywhere it was implemented. Instead it empowered the ruling oligarchy. It’s the theory that was a dangerous fantasy, not the failings of the people who (supposedly) “perverted” it and failed to implement its prescriptions.

    Given that Marx’s theories were avowedly scientific, one might have imagined that they would fall to be evaluated by scientific method i.e. are they falsifiable when subjected to field testing? Marxism repeatedly falsified itself in practice. It is a theory (or set of theories) that utterly failed.

  77. Rob says:

    harry, I may be getting you monstrously wrong, but consider what you’re saying:

    “If what actually happened was bad then why is the theory wrong? In the theory of Nazism the subhumans would either be forced out of the Reich or used as slave labour.”

    Then it’s OK to use subhumans as slave labour if the theory so dictates…….

    No, no, I’m getting this wrong. But I just can’t understand what you’re saying.

  78. Fyodor says:

    Apologies for the long post.

    Sophie,

    Finally got some time to go over your list.

    Tsar Alexander II of Russia (1881)

  79. sophie says:

    Fyodor, thank you for that long post, and great info. I do think, though, that you may be worrying a little too much about the semantics–many anarchists also described themself as ‘revolutionary socialists’ to distinguish themselves from the socialists of the First International from which they’d broken away. They did consider themselves anarchists as opposed to the statists, who also operated within the wide field of Socialism(I;’m talking about anarchists of the time, not of now). Late 19th cent/early 20th cent anarchism was a confused movement, certainly, and there was certainly no Anarchy Inc. or Terror Inc. as depicted in some of the thrillers of the period(Edgar Wallace is particular interesting to read in this light)but what struck me was how much of an affinity these people had with each other, under the banner of ‘Anarchism.’ They certainly thought they were following the ideas of people like Kropotkin, Bakunin, Maletesta, etc, who all spoke of the need for violent action, against the more traditional or statist Marxists, as well as against bourgeois society. I agree that the popular press did take up the idea of ‘anarchists’ as always being responsible for acts of terror and that this was oversimplifying the case, but that at the same time it was a real thing, just as now Islamist terrorism is.
    My point was that the anarchists, and especially the violent anarchists, are left out of many historical overviews of the events leading up to WWI and II and the violent tyrannies that convulsed Europe, but that their role in helping to destroy the old world–ostensibly to usher in an era of peace and harmony, by acts of murder!–should not be overlooked. I have been immersing myself in accounts of the period for quite a few months now; reading a lot of primary sources(and people who think you should ignore contemporary accounts of anarchism in favour of modern accounts are, I’m afraid, entirely mistaken)as well as reading lots of novels published in that time. That’s what led me to propose this idea–an idea which I grant is unusual and which maybe puts a different light on things to what people have been used to, but which came to me out of reading, connecting things, and imaginative leaps. Nothing wrong with that, you know. I’m not proposing an authoritative theory; merely an interesting idea to chew over, and a change from the usual way of looking at the history of the 2oth cent. We shouldn’t be afraid of looking at things a little differently, should we!
    Interesting indeed about the Italians, isn’t it! Must look into it..
    Incidentally, I’ve discovered just yesterday a writer who has written a book that in part supports some of the things I’ve been saying, and who in fact does draw in discussion of the late 19th cent/early 20th cent anarchist terrorists into a discussion of Al-qaeda. He’s a Belgian counter-terrorism expert called Professor Rik Coolsaet, whose book, ‘Al Qaeda–the Myth,’ has just been translated and published in English. I’ll post separately on him, so people can go and look him up.

  80. harry says:

    Rob,

    Nazi theory says to make certain people into slaves, dispossess them and drive them out of the Reich.
    We agree on that. And we both agree it’s a horrible thing to do, even though up until this point I haven’t stated so because it wasn’t relevant to my argument.

    All I am saying is that Nazi Theory does not explicitly say to set up concentration camps as the Nazis actually did. It wasn’t in the theory, but it was what they did. Sure, it was compatible with what they were doing elsewhere, but they could have very well been less cruel ie had prison farms rather than concentration camps ala how numberplates are made. You can have a slave workforce and not shoot them randomly, starve them or any other number of horrors that the Nazis carried out.

    That is my point. It is a pissy little thing of a point and I rather regret started out on it now. Please see my next post addressed to Ken.

  81. Aidan says:

    Is this some sort of cognitive function test? Have we devised some method of splitting the population into two camps that are UNABLE to understand the other?

    It seems to me that those heavily involved in political theorising, thinking etc believe they have one meaning for certain labels, and those in the “reality based community” have another meaning for those same labels.

    For the theorists, who need to talk about theories alot, compare and contrast etc, socialism is just another theory. For others, e.g. Ken, socialism is a horrible fantasy that has, as far as he can see, inspired many people to horrible acts of violence.

    Ken can’t talk about socialism in the abstract, he sees it as being directly responsible for many atrocities. Is this correct Ken? Am I misrepresenting your views?

    For me the real divide here seems to be between those who want to talk in a more academic way, and those who think the theoretical approach lacks merit as it fails to adequately describe the political reality which flows from the theory.

    I think there is merit in both sides. Theorists require pretty strict labels for things, to make sure everyone knows what the other person is talking about. Horrible confusion ensues otherwise. The “realists”, for want of a better term, are not using the same terms to mean the same thing. Why would they? Two guys throw bombs to kill heads of state. They are apparently vehemently against the current model and describe themselves as anarchists. Why not use their own label?

    Indeed, why not? Well we might not develop any deeper understanding of their motives, or how their methods might develop, if we just lump all bomb throwing mad buggers together. Equally, just because someone didn’t elucidate their personal theory of bomb throwing in the correct manner, doesn’t mean they weren’t actually an anarchist, or whatever. I just don’t think these discussions are useful if people aren’t talking about the same thing, or worse, are disdainful of the way the others choose to frame their arguments.

    Rob said:

    “Then it’s OK to use subhumans as slave labour if the theory so dictates…….

    No, no, I’m getting this wrong. But I just can’t understand what you’re saying.”

    He is just explaining what was intrinisic to the Nazi ideology. I suppose this came from Mein Kampf or some other Nazi publication. He was just pointing out that the concentration camps and the final solution were developed once they were in power and were not, explicitly, part of the Nazi ideology. For what it’s worth.

    Did anyone get to the end of this?

    P.S. Ken, surely a few html tags would be ok in comments? Italics and blockquotes sure help to distinguish quoted material.

  82. Rob says:

    Sophie, I think you make an excellent point when you say that “..people who think you should ignore contemporary accounts of anarchism in favour of modern accounts are, I’m afraid, entirely mistaken”.

    I studied Elizabethan vagrants as part of my post-grad work (no PhD, sadly, so maybe I’m not qualified as a historian) and it didn’t take me long to realise that the ‘modern’ explanations of 16th century vagabondage had nothing significant to say about the contemporaneous reality. They simply assumed loftily that we know so much better now,and proceeded on the basis that the people of the past were unthinking oafs or simpletons, and their judgements and perceptions fit only to to be written off. Whereas in fact they were acute observers of contemporary realities with a pretty shrewd idea of what was actually going on. They certainly deserve to be listened to with respect.

    The same I suspect to be true of the anarchists you are looking at as part of your current project.

  83. harry says:

    Ken,
    I over-reached on the last bit and I am going to run away from it like a craven coward because it’s not where I wanted to end up.
    Please go back one step.
    In fact, lets go back the beginning.

    Mark took Sophie up on her definition of Anarchist. He introduced a far more accurate definiton of anarchism.

    Rob then wrote “I don’t think it’s an effective rebuttal to return to the guiding texts of anarchism and say, ‘no, it’s not’. That would be rather like contemplating what happened at Tiannenmen Square and saying, ‘that’s not socialism in action’. Of course it is.”

    a) When there is a disbute over definition you do have to go back to the guiding texts. Otherwise all you will get is some people using a stereotype and others a correct definition and you get nowhere. Unless you agree on definitions an arguement can go nowhere because all it will be is an argument over the definitions rather than about the ‘meat’. This is all very obvious.

    b) Defining ‘Socialism in Action’ as the Tiannenmen square massacre is nothing more than stereotyping. The tanks rolling in had nothing to do with socialism – it was all to do with the fear and paranoia of an oppresive government. There are any number of oppresive governemnts and only some of them are labelled as socialist.

    Since Socialist, Communist, Democratic, sliding scales of participatory Royal and any other governments have opened fire on the protests of their own people, using Rob’s logic above, in action they are no different to each other.
    This is not so, and I don’t think Rob thinks this, but it’s what he wrote.
    The creed of the government is immaterial to their willingness to open fire on their own people.
    Autocratic governments of course are far more likely to open fire on their own people.
    But that’s not what Rob wrote. He wrote that *socialist* governments crush people with tanks because of socialism.
    This is patently not so. They crush the people because they are autocratic.

    So, my pissy little point is framed in these two questions:
    1) Did the tanks roll in because the government was socialist or autocratic?
    2) Does socialist theory say “Be autocratic”?

  84. Ken Parish says:

    Aidan

    Are you just naturally pompous and patronising, or have you been practising? (*irritated lack of civility/*) I explained clearly the connection between theory and praxis in my previous comment. I suggest you go back and read it carefully. It isn’t a matter of some imagined lack of intellectual rigor on the part of a mythical “reality based community”, but the simple application of logic and scientific method in testing and evaluating a political theory.

    Note that I’m not arguing in favour of Sophie’s conflation of anarchism with other forms of/motives for revolutionary violence. That’s been adequately dealt with by others. I’m arguing the simple point that harry’s argument that we should completely divorce theory from praxis (and that praxis tells us nothing about the theory and that it’s unfair/irrelevant even to dare to mention it), is spurious. Of course, I may be completely misunderstanding harry’s point, but if so I’m still waiting for him to explain where I’ve misunderstood him.

    Finally, on the html in comments issue, I’m guided by Scott Wickstein who owns ths domain. He disabled html as a measure to reduce spam, and it seems to have worked to an extent. I’m sure it would be possible to re-enable some html tags but not the hperlink one (which is the engine for spam), but I think I’ll leave it for now. Scott is currently looking at the viability of more permanent solutions e.g. switching to WordPress with a suitable suite of anti-spam plugins. I’ll wait and see what emerges, and ask you to be patient in the meantime about the unavilability of html. I also find it a nuisance.

  85. Ken Parish says:

    Harry

    OK I don’t have a problem with any of that (but see my immediately preceding comment to Aidan, which makes it clear that I agree we need to be precise in defining an ideology, in this case anarchism).

  86. Fyodor says:

    Sophie,

    By no means do I wish to discourage your research – I too find the era and its turmoil very interesting. A couple of comments in rejoinder, however:

    “I do think, though, that you may be worrying a little too much about the semantics–many anarchists also described themself as ‘revolutionary socialists’ to distinguish themselves from the socialists of the First International from which they’d broken away. They did consider themselves anarchists as opposed to the statists, who also operated within the wide field of Socialism (I’m talking about anarchists of the time, not of now).”

    It’s precisely because the semantics are important that I focus on them, and the statement above is a good example. There was tremendous confusion even amongst the “anarchists” on the subject of their objectives. As you note, many (most?) were proto-socialist revolutionaries, and not true anarchists at all. The fact that – generally ignorant – contemporary commentators gave them ALL the blanket designation of “anarchist” further complicated matters. This is also, IMO, the source of the “affinity” that you talk about in the following text:

    “Late 19th cent/early 20th cent anarchism was a confused movement, certainly, and there was certainly no Anarchy Inc. or Terror Inc. as depicted in some of the thrillers of the period(Edgar Wallace is particular interesting to read in this light)but what struck me was how much of an affinity these people had with each other, under the banner of ‘Anarchism.'”

    That is, the affinity these people had with each other was driven by a common antipathy towards the bourgeois/autocratic political structures of the day and, often, a conviction that violence was the best means of effecting change. However, this does not mean that they were anarchists, because they clearly did not all share the same goal of anarchy. Far from it.

    “My point was that the anarchists, and especially the violent anarchists, are left out of many historical overviews of the events leading up to WWI and II and the violent tyrannies that convulsed Europe, but that their role in helping to destroy the old world–ostensibly to usher in an era of peace and harmony, by acts of murder!–should not be overlooked.”

    Apologies to Harry for not getting around to this earlier, but I agree with him and Mark B. that you’re out on a limb on this issue. The old world was decisively destroyed by WWI, which in turn was driven by geopolitics (i.e. balance of power in Europe, German competition with Britain, competing Austro-Russo-Turkish interests in the Balkans) and nationalism, not anarchist acts.

    IMO, the anarchist acts that you descibe were symptomatic of crises of legitimacy (e.g. disenfranchisement of the working class, of ethnic minorities) for many of the Old World powers, but did not cause WWI. The underlying problems of legitimacy faced by many European countries, however, did emerge with a vengeance in the aftermath of WWI, aiding the “regime change” in most of these countries.

    “I have been immersing myself in accounts of the period for quite a few months now; reading a lot of primary sources(and people who think you should ignore contemporary accounts of anarchism in favour of modern accounts are, I’m afraid, entirely mistaken)as well as reading lots of novels published in that time.”

    It’s precisely because contemporary accounts of “anarchism” suffer from the problems identified above that they MAY provide weak bases for analysis of terrorism in the late 19th century. Hindight and perspective allows us to understand what was going on in many revolutionary movements which were extremely misunderstood at the time. The fact that contemporary accounts applied a broad brush of “anarchism” to so many different ideologies shows how dangerous this could be. By all means use contemporary sources, but using them uncritically is dangerous.

  87. What Ken and Fyodor said. Precision in definition is important whether we’re talking about theory or practice. Otherwise I could start calling the religious Right anarchists because organisationally many Evangelical churches are decentralised and fissiparous, and jump to a conclusion about the Republican Party being similar to anarchists who are similar to fascists. The logic of this (non)argument appears to me to be identical to some of what’s been claimed on this thread. Of course, I wouldn’t do this because I’d make the distinction between evangelical Christianity and anarchism based on both organisational form (absence of importance placed on democracy, following charismatic leaders) and goals. If you don’t keep in mind precision and rigour, you can end up making almost any argument you like that’s superficially persuasive, but it doesn’t stand up for long.

  88. sophie says:

    Excuse me, but I think it’s bizarre to discount the fact that the anarchist assassins called themselves anarchists–moved in anarchist circles–read anarchist texts. What more precision do you want? Or do you believe there is some kind of purist Anarchist Inquisition that will allocate points to people based on whether they ‘truly’ follow all the theory, in every respect? Nobody, but nobody, ever could conform, in any philosophy, faith, theory or ideology.
    I did not use the word ‘anarchist’ loosely. I repeat, it was based on my reading in the primary sources of the time. Anarchist terrorism was a reality, whether you like it or not.

  89. “By all means use contemporary sources, but using them uncritically is dangerous.”

  90. harry says:

    Um, Sophie, did you read Fyodor’s long post?

    Effectively you said “All rocks are yellow.”
    Various people then pointed out there were red, orange, blue, black, pink and green rocks.
    Then some pointed out that manyof the ones you said were yellow were actually red, orange and pink.

    If that isn’t a loose definiton of ‘yellow’ I don’t know what is.

  91. sophie says:

    Harry, in every case Fyodor talked about–the ones I brought to his attention–the assassins described themselves as anarchists. It was Fyodor’s own interpretation was that a few were genuine anarchists, some ‘socalist’ revolutionaries and some unhiged loons. I fail to see why we should take Fyodor’s word on it, rather than the actual accounts of the actual cases. Andthank you, Mark, for repeating your ce, but I actually do that already, read critically I mean. However I do believe you have to read the primary sources first, not just secondary ones written a long time after the event. Both are needed, together. I don’t see much sign that my critics have actually done the trawling in the primary sources as well as using modern theories.

  92. sophie says:

    lots of typos in previous post, sorry–it should read ‘socialist’ ‘unhinged’ and, Mark, it was your ‘advice’ not your ‘ce’–God knows what that might be!

  93. I was quoting Fyodor, actually, Sophie.

  94. Fyodor says:

    “I did not use the word ‘anarchist’ loosely.”

    No, you did, repeatedly. That’s the crux of the argument. You were too loose with the term, too often.

  95. harry says:

    And thus, once more, the head of Harry doth strike the brick wall of Sophie.

  96. CE is probably the Common Era, Sophie, as in BCE :)

  97. Aidan says:

    Ken said:

    “I explained clearly the connection between theory and praxis in my previous comment. I suggest you go back and read it carefully. It isn’t a matter of some imagined lack of intellectual rigor on the part of a mythical ‘reality based community’, but the simple application of logic and scientific method in testing and evaluating a political theory.”

    Ok, the “reality based ..” description was just tossing in a phrase that has been doing the rounds. Seemed to fit but I admit now it is something of a red herring.

    I wasn’t trying to say “Him rigorous, Him not”. I was just pointing out that some people were talking at cross purposes, and it seemed to me that this was due to the point of view they were coming from. Some from an intellectual background, where political theories etc are just that. Others were more interested in actual events, and the theories were more of a sideline. I guess you don’t see it like that.

    Sorry for misrepresenting your position. You’re right, you were fairly clear in your previous comment.

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