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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Mark Bahnisch
2022 years ago

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.

Mark Bahnisch
2022 years ago

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

blank
blank
2022 years ago

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.”

Mark Bahnisch
2022 years ago

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.

harry
harry
2022 years ago

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.

harry
harry
2022 years ago

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

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

sophie
sophie
2022 years ago

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’.

Rob
Rob
2022 years ago

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.

Bill Posters
Bill Posters
2022 years ago

” I was really ‘thinking aloud'”

Well, I agree with the “aloud” part…

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

Jason Soon
Jason Soon
2022 years ago

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

Mark Bahnisch
2022 years ago

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.

Ken Parish
Ken Parish
2022 years ago

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.

Mark Bahnisch
2022 years ago

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

Mark Bahnisch
2022 years ago

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.

sophie
sophie
2022 years ago

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?

Rob
Rob
2022 years ago

“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.

Mark Bahnisch
2022 years ago

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.

harry
harry
2022 years ago

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.

Rob
Rob
2022 years ago

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.

Rob
Rob
2022 years ago

“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.

sophie
sophie
2022 years ago

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.

Rob
Rob
2022 years ago

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.

Cybrludite
2022 years ago

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.

Nabakov
Nabakov
2022 years ago

“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”

Mark Bahnisch
2022 years ago

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

Mark Bahnisch
2022 years ago

“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.

Ken Parish
Ken Parish
2022 years ago

“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.

sophie
sophie
2022 years ago

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?

Glen
2022 years ago

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.

Jason Soon
Jason Soon
2022 years ago

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

Jason Soon
Jason Soon
2022 years ago

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.

Gerry
2022 years ago

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

sophie
sophie
2022 years ago

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.

Rob
Rob
2022 years ago

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.

Fyodor
2022 years ago

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.

Jason Soon
Jason Soon
2022 years ago

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.

harry
harry
2022 years ago

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.”

harry
harry
2022 years ago

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’.

Rafe
2022 years ago

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.

Jason Soon
Jason Soon
2022 years ago

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

Rafe, you closet bomb thrower!

sophie
sophie
2022 years ago

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.

Mark Bahnisch
2022 years ago

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.

harry
harry
2022 years ago

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

Gaby
Gaby
2022 years ago

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.

Fyodor
2022 years ago

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”.

wen
wen
2022 years ago

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.

Fyodor
2022 years ago

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?

Evil Pundit
2022 years ago

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=

sophie
sophie
2022 years ago

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!

sophie
sophie
2022 years ago

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