[g8-sheffield] IS ANARCHISM VIOLENCE?
worldwarfree at riseup.net
worldwarfree at riseup.net
Thu May 5 15:57:39 BST 2005
You have heard that Anarchists throw bombs, that they believe in violence, and
that Anarchy means disorder and chaos.
It is not surprising that you should think so. The press, the pulpit, and every
one in authority constantly din it into your ears. But most of them know
better, even if they have a reason for not telling you the truth. It is time
you should bear it.
I mean to speak to you honestly and frankly, and you can take my word for it,
because it happens that I am just one of those Anarchists who are pointed out
as men of violence and destruction. I ought to know, and I have nothing to
"Now, does Anarchism really mean disorder and violence?" you wonder.
No. my friend, it is capitalism and government which stand for disorder and
violence. Anarchism is the very reverse of it; it means order without
government and peace without violence.
"But is that possible?" you ask.
That is just what we are going to talk over now. But first your friend demands
to know whether Anarchists have never thrown bombs or ever used any violence.
Yes, Anarchists have thrown bombs and have sometimes resorted to violence.
"There you are!" your friend exclaims. "I thought so.--"
But do not let us be hasty. If Anarchists have sometimes employed violence, does
it necessarily mean that Anarchism means violence?
Ask yourself this question and try to answer it honestly.
When a citizen puts on a soldier's uniform, he may have to throw bombs and use
violence. Will you say, then, that citizenship stands for bombs and violence?
You will indignantly resent the imputation. It simply means, you will reply,
that under certain conditions a man may have to resort to violence. The man may
happen to he a Democrat, a Monarchist, a Socialist, Bolshevik, or Anarchist.
You will find that this applies to all men and to all times.
Brutus killed Caesar because he feared his friend meant to betray the republic
and become king. Not that Brutus "loved Caesar less but that he loved Rome
more." Brutus was not an Anarchist. He was a loyal republican.
William Tell, as folklore tells us, shot to death the tyrant in order to rid his
country of oppression. Tell had never heard of Anarchism.
I mention these instances to illustrate the fact that from time immemorial
despots met their fate at the hands of outraged lovers of liberty. Such men
were rebels against tyranny. They were generally patriots, Democrats or
Republicans, occasionally Socialists or Anarchists. Their acts were cases of
individual rebellion against wrong and injustice. Anarchism had nothing to do
There was a time in ancient Greece when killing a despot was considered the
highest virtue. Modern law condemns such acts, but human feeling seems to have
remained the same in this matter as in the old days. The conscience of the
world does not feel outraged by tyrannicide. Even if publicly not approved, the
heart of mankind condones and often even secretly rejoices at such acts. Were
there not thousands of patriotic youths in America willing to assassinate the
German Kaiser whom they held responsible for starting the World War? Did not a
French court recently acquit the man who killed Petlura to avenge the thousands
of men, women and children murdered in the Petlura pogroms against the Jews of
In every land, in all ages, there have been tyrannicides; that is, men and women
who loved their country well enough to sacrifice even their own lives for it.
Usually they were persons of no political party or idea, but simply haters of
tyranny. Occasionally they were religious fanatics, like the devout Catholic
Kullmann, who tried to assassinate Bismarck.1or the misguided enthusiast
Charlotte Corday who killed Marat during the French Revolution.
In the United States three Presidents were killed by individual acts. Lincoln
was shot in 1865, by John Wilkes Booth, who was a Southern Democrat; Garfield,
in 1881, by Charles Jules Guiteau, a Republican; and McKinley, in 1901, by Leon
Czolgosz. Out of the three only one was an Anarchist.
The country that has the worst oppressors produces also the greatest number of
tyrannicides, which is natural. Take Russia, for instance. With complete
suppression of speech and press under the Tsars, there was no way of mitigating
the despotic régime than by "putting the fear of God" into the tyrant's heart.
Those avengers were mostly sons and daughters of the highest nobility,
idealistic youths who loved liberty and the people. With all other avenues
closed, they felt themselves compelled to resort to the pistol and dynamite in
the hope of alleviating the miserable conditions of their country. They were
known as nihilists and terrorists. They were not Anarchists.
In modem times individual acts of political violence have been even more
frequent than in the past. The women suffragettes in England, for example,
frequently resorted to it to propagate and carry out their demands for equal
rights. In Germany, since the war, men of the most conservative political views
have used such methods in the hope of reestablishing the kingdom. It was a
monarchist who killed Karl Erzberger, the Prussian Minister of Finance; and
Walter Rathenau, Minister of Foreign Affairs, was also laid low by a man of the
same political party.
Why, the original cause of, or at least excuse for, the
Great 'War itself was the killing of the Austrian heir to the throne by a
Serbian patriot who had never heard of Anarchism. In Germany, Hungary, France,
Italy, Spain, Portugal, and in every other European country men of the most
varied political views have resorted to acts of violence, not to speak of the
wholesale political terror, practiced by organized bodies such as the Fascists
in Italy, the Ku Klux Klan in America, or the Catholic Church in Mexico.
You see, then, that Anarchists have no monopoly of political violence. The
number of such acts by Anarchists is infinitesimal as compared with those
committed by persons of other political persuasions.
The truth is that in every country, in every social movement, violence has been
a part of the struggle from time immemorial. Even the Nazarene, who came to
preach the gospel of peace, resorted to violence to drive the money changers
out of the temple.
As I have said, Anarchists have no monopoly on violence. On the contrary, the
teachings of Anarchism are those of peace and harmony, of non-invasion, of the
sacredness of life and liberty. But Anarchists are human, like the rest of
mankind, and perhaps more so. They are more sensitive to wrong and injustice,
quicker to resent oppression, and therefore not exempt from occasionally
voicing their protest by an act of violence. But such acts are an expression of
individual temperament, not of any particular theory.
You might ask whether the holding of revolutionary ideas would not naturally
influence a person toward deeds of violence. I do not think so, because we have
seen that violent methods are also employed by people of the most conservative
opinions. If persons of directly opposite political views commit similar acts,
it is hardly reasonable to say that their ideas are responsible for such acts.
Like results have a like cause, but that cause is not to be found in political
convictions; rather in individual temperament and the general feeling about
"You may be right about temperament," you say. '.'I can see that revolutionary
ideas are not the cause of political acts of violence, else every revolutionist
would be committing such acts. But do not such views to some extent justify
those who commit such acts?"
It may seem so at first sight. But if you think it over you will find that it is
an entirely wrong idea. The best proof of it is that Anarchists who hold exactly
the same views about government and the necessity of abolishing it, often
disagree entirely on the question of violence. Thus Tolstoyan Anarchists and
most Individualist Anarchists condemn political violence, while other
Anarchists approve of or at least justify it.
Is it reasonable, then, to say that Anarchist views are responsible for violence
or in any way influence such acts?
Moreover, many Anarchists who at one time believed in violence as a means of
propaganda have changed their opinion about it and do not favor such methods
any more. There was a time, for instance, when Anarchists advocated individual
acts of violence, known as "propaganda by deed." They did not expect to change
government and capitalism into Anarchism by such acts, nor did they think that
the taking off of a despot would abolish despotism. No, terrorism was
considered a means of avenging a popular wrong, inspiring fear in the enemy,
and also calling attention to the evil against which the act of terror was
directed. But most Anarchists to-day do not believe any more in "propaganda by
deed" and do not favor acts of that nature.
Experience has taught them that though such methods may have been justified and
useful in the past, modern conditions of life make them unnecessary and even
harmful to the spread of their ideas. But their ideas remain the same, which
means that it was not Anarchism which shaped their attitude to violence. It
proves that it is not certain ideas or "isms" that lead to violence, but that
some other causes ring it about.
We must therefore look somewhere else to find the right explanation.
As we have seen, acts of political violence have been committed not only by
Anarchists, Socialists, and revolutionists of all kinds, but also by patriots
and nationalists, by Democrats and Republicans, by suffragettes, by
conservatives and reactionaries, by monarchists and royalists, and even by
religionists and devout Christians.
We know now that it could not have been any particular idea or "ism" that
influenced their acts, because the most varied ideas and "isms" produced
similar deeds. I have given as the reason individual temperament and the
general feeling about violence.
Here is the crux of the matter. What is this general feeling about violence? If
we can answer this question correctly, the whole matter will be clear to us.
If we speak honestly, we must admit that every one believes in violence and
practices it, however he may condemn it in others. In fact, all of the
institutions we support and the entire life of present society are based on
What is the thing we call government? Is it anything else but organized
violence? The law orders you to do this or not to do that, and if you fail to
obey, it will compel you by force. We are not discussing just now whether it is
right or wrong, whether it should or should not be so. just now we are
interested in the fact that it is so---that all government, all law and
authority finally rest on force and violence. on punishment or the fear of
Why, even spiritual authority, the authority of the church and of God rests on
force and violence, because it is the fear of divine wrath and vengeance that
wields power over you, compels you to obey, and even to believe against your
Wherever you turn you will find that our entire life is built on violence or the
fear of it. From earliest childhood you are subjected to the violence of parents
or elders. At home, in school, in the office, factory, field, or shop, it is
always some one's authority which keeps you obedient and compels you to do his
The right to compel you is called authority. Fear of punishment has been made
into duty and is called obedience.
In this atmosphere of force and violence, of authority and obedience, of duty,
fear and punishment we all grow up; we breathe it throughout our lives. We are
so steeped in the spirit of violence that we never stop to ask whether violence
is right or wrong. We only ask if it is legal, whether the law permits it.
You don't question the right of the government to kill, to confiscate and
imprison. If a private person should be guilty of the things the government is
doing all the time, you'd brand him a murderer, thief, and scoundrel. But as
long as the violence committed is "lawful," you approve of it and submit to it.
So it is not really violence that you object to, but to people using violence
This lawful violence and the fear of it dominate our whole existence, individual
and collective. Authority controls our lives from the cradle to the
grave-authority parental, priestly and divine, political, economic, social, and
moral. But whatever the character of that authority, it is always the same
executioner wielding power over you through your fear of punishment in one form
or another. You are afraid of God and the devil, of the priest and the neighbor,
of your employer and boss, of the politician and policeman, of the judge and the
jailer, of the law and the government. All your life is a long chain of
fears-fears which bruise your body and lacerate your soul. On those fears is
based the authority of God, of the church, of parents, of capitalist and ruler.
Look into your heart and see if what I say is not true. Why, even among children
the ten-year-old Johnny bosses his younger brother or sister by the authority of
his greater physical strength, just as Johnny's father bosses him by his
superior strength, and by Johnny's dependence on his support. You stand for the
authority of priest and preacher because you think they can "call down the wrath
of God upon your head." You submit to the domination of boss, judge, and
government because of their power to deprive you of work, to ruin your
business, to put you in prison-a power, by the way, that you yourself have
given into their hands.
So authority rules your whole life, the authority of the past and the present,
of the dead and the living, and your existence is a continuous invasion and
violation of yourself, a constant subjection to the thoughts and the will of
some one else.
And as you are invaded and violated, so you subconsciously revenge yourself by
invading and violating others over whom you have authority or can exercise
compulsion. physical or moral. In this way all life has become a crazy quilt of
authority, of domination and submission, of command and obedience, of coercion
and subjection, of rulers and ruled, of violence and force in a thousand and
Can you wonder that even idealists are still held in the meshes of this spirit
of authority and violence, and are often impelled by their feelings and
environment to invasive acts entirely at variance with their ideas?
We are all still barbarians who resort to force and violence to settle our
doubts, difficulties, and troubles. Violence is the method of ignorance, the
weapon of the weak. The strong of heart and brain need no violence, for they
are irresistible in their consciousness of being right. The further we get away
from primitive man and the hatchet age, the less recourse we shall have to force
and violence. The more enlightened man will become, the less he will employ
compulsion and coercion. The really civilized man will divest himself of all
fear and authority. He will rise from the dust and stand erect: he will bow to
no tsar either in heaven or on earth. He will become fully human when he will
scorn to rule and refuse to be ruled. He will be truly free only when there
shall be no more masters.
Anarchism is the ideal of such a condition; of a society without force and
compulsion, where all men shall be equals, and live in freedom, peace, and
The word Anarchy comes from the Greek, meaning without force, without violence
or government, because government is the very fountainhead of violence,
constraint, and coercion.
Anarchy2 therefore does not mean disorder and chaos, as you thought before. On
the contrary, it is the very reverse of it; it means no government, which is
freedom and liberty. Disorder is the child of authority and compulsion. Liberty
is the mother of order.
"A beautiful ideal," you say; "but only angels are fit for it."
Let us see, then, if we can grow the wings we need for that ideal state of
Life in freedom, in Anarchy, will do more than liberate man merely from his
present political and economic bondage. That will be only the first step, the
preliminary to a truly human existence. Far greater and more significant will
be the results of such liberty, its effects upon man's mind, upon his
personality. The abolition of the coercive external will, and with it of the
fear of authority, will loosen the bonds of moral compulsion no less than of
economic and physical. Man's spirit will breathe freely, and that mental
emancipation will be the birth of a new culture, of a new humanity. Imperatives
and taboos will disappear, and man will begin to be himself, to develop and
express his individual tendencies and uniqueness. Instead of "thou shalt not,"
the public conscience will say "thou mayest, taking full responsibility." That
will be a training in human dignity and self-reliance, beginning at home and in
school, which will produce a new race with a new attitude to life.
ABC of Anarchism
READ IT HERE
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