Propaganda of the deed

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Propaganda of the deed (or propaganda by the deed, from the French propagande par le fait[1]) is specific political direct action meant to be exemplary to others and serve as a catalyst for revolution.

It is primarily associated with acts of violence perpetrated by proponents of insurrectionary anarchism in the late 19th and early 20th century, including bombings and assassinations aimed at the State, the ruling class, and Church arsons targeting religious groups, even though propaganda of the deed also had non-violent applications.[2] These acts of terrorism were intended to ignite a "spirit of revolt" by demonstrating the state, the middle and upper classes, and religious organizations were not omnipotent and also to provoke the State to become escalatingly repressive in its response.[3] In 1881, the International Anarchist Congress of London gave the tactic its approval.[4]

Anarchist origins[edit]

Various definitions[edit]

One of the first individuals to conceptualise propaganda by the deed was the Italian revolutionary Carlo Pisacane (1818–1857), who wrote in his "Political Testament" (1857) that "ideas spring from deeds and not the other way around."[5] Mikhail Bakunin (1814–1876), in his "Letters to a Frenchman on the Present Crisis" (1870) stated that "we must spread our principles, not with words but with deeds, for this is the most popular, the most potent, and the most irresistible form of propaganda."[6] The concept, in a broader setting, has a rich heritage, as the words of Francis of Assisi reveal: "Let them show their love by the works they do for each other, according as the Apostle says: 'let us not love in word or in tongue, but in deed and in truth.'"

Johann Most

Some anarchists, such as Johann Most, advocated publicizing violent acts of retaliation against counter-revolutionaries because "we preach not only action in and for itself, but also action as propaganda."[7] It was not advocacy for mass murder, but a call for targeted killings of the representatives of capitalism and government at a time when such action might garner sympathy from the population, such as during periods of government repression or labor conflicts,[8] although Most himself once claimed that "the existing system will be quickest and most radically overthrown by the annihilation of its exponents. Therefore, massacres of the enemies of the people must be set in motion."[9] In 1885, he published The Science of Revolutionary Warfare,[10] a technical manual for acquiring and detonating explosives based on the knowledge he acquired by working at an explosives factory in New Jersey.[11] Most was an early influence on American anarchists Emma Goldman and Alexander Berkman. Berkman attempted propaganda by the deed when he tried in 1892 to kill industrialist Henry Clay Frick following the deaths by shooting of several striking workers.[12]

Beverly Gage, professor of U.S. history at Yale University, elaborates on what the concept meant to outsiders and those within the anarchist movement:

To outsiders, the talk of bombing and assassination that suddenly pulsed through revolutionary circles in the late 1870s sounded like little more than an indiscriminate call to violence. To Most and others within the anarchist movement, by contrast, the idea of propaganda by deed, or the attentat (attack), had a very specific logic. Among anarchism's founding premises was the idea that capitalist society was a place of constant violence: every law, every church, every paycheck was based on force. In such a world, to do nothing, to stand idly by while millions suffered, was itself to commit an act of violence. The question was not whether violence per se might be justified, but exactly how violence might be maximally effective for, in Most's words, annihilating the "beast of property" that "makes mankind miserable, and gains in cruelty and voracity with the progress of our so called civilization."[13]

By the 1880s, the slogan "propaganda of the deed" had begun to be used both within and outside of the anarchist movement to refer to individual bombings, regicides and tyrannicides. In 1881, "propaganda by the deed" was formally adopted as a strategy by the anarchist London Congress.[3] In 1886, French anarchist Clément Duval achieved a form of propaganda of the deed, stealing 15,000 francs from the mansion of a Parisian socialite, before accidentally setting the house on fire. Caught two weeks later, he was dragged from the court crying "Long live anarchy!", and condemned to death. Duval's sentence was later commuted to hard labor on Devil's Island, French Guiana. In the anarchist paper Révolte, Duval famously declared that, "Theft exists only through the exploitation of man by man... when Society refuses you the right to exist, you must take it... the policeman arrested me in the name of the Law, I struck him in the name of Liberty".

As early as 1887, a few important figures in the anarchist movement had begun to distance themselves from individual acts of violence. Peter Kropotkin thus wrote that year in Le Révolté that "a structure based on centuries of history cannot be destroyed with a few kilos of dynamite".[14] A variety of anarchists advocated the abandonment of these sorts of tactics in favor of collective revolutionary action, for example through the trade union movement. The anarcho-syndicalist, Fernand Pelloutier, argued in 1895 for renewed anarchist involvement in the labor movement on the basis that anarchism could do very well without "the individual dynamiter."[15]

State repression (including the infamous 1894 French lois scélérates) of the anarchist and labor movements following the few successful bombings and assassinations may have contributed to the abandonment of these kinds of tactics, although reciprocally state repression, in the first place, may have played a role in these isolated acts. The dismemberment of the French socialist movement, into many groups and, following the suppression of the 1871 Paris Commune, the execution and exile of many communards to penal colonies, favored individualist political expression and acts.[16]

Anarchist historian Max Nettlau provided a more complex concept of propaganda when he said that,

Every person is likely to be open to a different kind of argument, so propaganda cannot be diversified enough if we want to touch all. We want it to pervade and penetrate all the utterances of life, social and political, domestic and artistic, educational and recreational. There should be propaganda by word and action, the platform and the press, the street corner, the workshop, and the domestic circle, acts of revolt, and the example of our own lives as free men. Those who agree with each other may co-operate; otherwise they should prefer to work each on his own lines to trying to persuade one the other of the superiority of his own method.[17]

Later anarchist authors advocating "propaganda of the deed" included the German anarchist Gustav Landauer, and the Italians Errico Malatesta and Luigi Galleani. For Gustav Landauer, "propaganda of the deed" meant the creation of libertarian social forms and communities that would inspire others to transform society.[18] In "Weak Statesmen, Weaker People," he wrote that the state is not something "that one can smash in order to destroy. The state is a relationship between human beings... one destroys it by entering into other relationships."[19] Errico Malatesta described "propaganda by the deed" as violent communal insurrections that were meant to ignite the imminent revolution. Though in the last analysis Malatesta considered violence a necessity, he considered it an anarchist's duty to warn of its dangers, writing:

Violence, i.e. physical force used to another's hurt, which is the most brutal form the struggle between men can assume, is eminently corrupting. It tends, by its very nature, to suffocate the best sentiments of man, and to develop all the antisocial qualities: ferocity, hatred, revenge, the spirit of domination and tyranny, contempt of the weak, servility towards the strong.

And this harmful tendency arises also when violence is used for a good end... Anarchists who rebel against every sort of oppression and struggle for the integral liberty of each and who ought thus to shrink instinctively from all acts of violence which cease to be mere resistance to oppression and become oppressive in their turn...also are liable to fall into the abyss of brutal force.

...The excitement caused by some recent explosions and the admiration for the courage with which the bomb-throwers faced death, sufficed to cause many anarchists to forget their program, and to enter on a path which is the most absolute negation of all anarchist ideas and sentiments.[20]

At the other extreme, the anarchist Luigi Galleani, perhaps the most vocal proponent of "propaganda by the deed" from the turn of the century through the end of the First World War, took undisguised pride in describing himself as a subversive, a revolutionary propagandist and advocate of the violent overthrow of established government and institutions through the use of 'direct action', i.e., bombings and assassinations.[21][22] Galleani heartily embraced physical violence and terrorism, not only against symbols of the government and the capitalist system, such as courthouses and factories, but also through direct assassination of 'enemies of the people': capitalists, industrialists, politicians, judges, and policemen.[22][23] He had a particular interest in the use of bombs, going so far as to include a formula for the explosive nitroglycerine in one of his pamphlets advertised through his monthly magazine, Cronaca Sovversiva.[23] By all accounts, Galleani was an extremely effective speaker and advocate of his policy of violent action, attracting a number of devoted Italian-American anarchist followers who called themselves Galleanists. Carlo Buda, the brother of Galleanist bombmaker Mario Buda, said of him, "You heard Galleani speak, and you were ready to shoot the first policeman you saw".[24]

Relationship to revolution[edit]

Propaganda of the deed thus included stealing (in particular bank robberies – named "expropriations" or "revolutionary expropriations" to finance the organization), rioting and general strikes which aimed at creating the conditions of an insurrection or even a revolution. These acts were justified as the necessary counterpart to state repression. As early as 1911, Leon Trotsky condemned individual acts of violence by anarchists as useful for little more than providing an excuse for state repression. "The anarchist prophets of the 'propaganda by the deed' can argue all they want about the elevating and stimulating influence of terrorist acts on the masses," he wrote in 1911, "Theoretical considerations and political experience prove otherwise." Vladimir Lenin largely agreed, viewing individual anarchist acts of terrorism as an ineffective substitute for coordinated action by disciplined cadres of the masses. Both Lenin and Trotsky acknowledged the necessity of violent rebellion and assassination to serve as a catalyst for revolution, but they distinguished between the ad hoc bombings and assassinations carried out by proponents of the propaganda of the deed, and organized violence coordinated by a professional revolutionary vanguard utilized for that specific end.[25]

Sociologist Max Weber wrote that the state has a "monopoly on the legitimate use of physical force", and, in Karl Marx's words, the state was only the repressive apparatus of the bourgeois class. Propaganda by the deed, including assassinations (sometimes involving bombs, named in French "machines infernales" – "hellish machines", usually made with bombs, sometimes only several guns assembled together), were thus legitimized by part of the anarchist movement and the First International as a valid means to be used in class struggle. The predictable state responses to these actions were supposed to display to the people the inherently repressive nature of the bourgeois state, delegitimizing it (legitimacy being key). This would in turn bolster the revolutionary spirit of the people, leading to the overthrow of the state. This is the basic formula of the cycle protests-repression-protests, which in specific conditions may lead to an effective state of insurrection.

This cycle has been observed during the 1905 Russian Revolution or in Paris in May 1968. However, it failed to achieve its revolutionary objective on the vast majority of occasions, thus leading to the abandonment by the vast majority of the anarchist movement of such bombings. However, the state never failed in its repressive response, enforcing various lois scélérates which usually involved tough clampdowns on the whole of the labor movement. These harsh laws, sometimes accompanied by the proclamation of the state of exception, progressively led to increased criticism among the anarchist movement of assassinations. The role of several agents provocateurs and the use of deliberate strategies of tension by governments, using such false flag terrorist actions as the Spanish La Mano Negra, work to discredit this violent tactic in the eyes of most socialist libertarians. John Filiss and Jim Bell are two of the best known modern advocates, with the latter developing the concept of an assassination market—a market system for anonymously hiring and compensating political assassination.

Notable actions[edit]

This timeline lists some significant actions that have been described as "Propaganda of the deed" since the 19th century.

Two men are sitting at a desk while a third man enters the office carrying a gun
Alexander Berkman's attempt to assassinate industrialist Henry Clay Frick, as illustrated by W. P. Snyder for Harper's Weekly in 1892.[26]
Artist's rendition of the bomb thrown by the anarchist Auguste Vaillant into the Chamber of Deputies of the French National Assembly in December, 1893[4]
Explosion of Liceu of Barcelona by the anarchist Santiago Salvador in the cover of the newspaper Le Petit Journal, 7 November 1893[30]
  • November 7, 1893 – The Spanish anarchist Santiago Salvador throws two Orsini bombs into the orchestra pit of the Liceu Theater in Barcelona during the second act of the opera Guillaume Tell, killing some twenty people and injuring scores of others.[30]
  • December 9, 1893 – Auguste Vaillant throws a nail bomb in the French National Assembly, killing nobody and injuring one. He is then sentenced to death and executed by the guillotine on February 4, 1894, shouting "Death to bourgeois society and long live anarchy!" (A mort la société bourgeoise et vive l'anarchie!). During his trial, Vaillant declares that he had not intended to kill anybody, but only to injure several deputies in retaliation against the execution of Ravachol, who was executed for four bombings.[4]
  • February 12, 1894 – Émile Henry, intending to avenge Auguste Vaillant, sets off a bomb in Café Terminus (a café near the Gare Saint-Lazare train station in Paris), killing one and injuring twenty. During his trial, when asked why he wanted to harm so many innocent people, he declares, "There is no innocent bourgeois." This act is one of the rare exceptions to the rule that propaganda of the deed targets only specific powerful individuals. Henry is convicted and executed by guillotine on May 21.[4]
  • February 15, 1894 – A chemical explosive carried by Martial Bourdin prematurely detonates outside the Royal Observatory, Greenwich in Greenwich Park, killing him.[31]
  • June 24, 1894 – Italian anarchist Sante Geronimo Caserio, seeking revenge for Auguste Vaillant and Émile Henry, stabs Sadi Carnot, the President of France, to death. Caserio is executed by guillotine on August 15.[4]
  • June 7, 1896 – Anarchist bombing of a Feast of Corpus Christi procession in Barcelona. Three people were killed instantly and another nine died from their injuries over the following days. The victims, however, were overwhelmingly poor and working class people attending religious worship, which caused some anarchists to denounce and disown the bombing.
  • November 3, 1896 – In the Greek city of Patras, Dimitris Matsalis, an anarchist shoemaker, attacks local banker Dionysios Fragkopoulos and merchant Andreas Kollas with a knife. Fragkopoulos is killed on the spot; Kollas is seriously wounded.
  • April 22, 1897 – Pietro Acciarito tries to stab King Umberto of Italy. He is sentenced to life imprisonment.
Assassination of Spanish Prime Minister Antonio Cánovas del Castillo by Michele Angiolillo in August 1897.[32]
An artist's rendition of the stabbing of Empress Elisabeth of Austria by the Italian anarchist Luigi Lucheni in Geneva, 10 September 1898.[33]
A sketch of Leon Czolgosz shooting McKinley in New York, September 6, 1901.[34]
The Assassination of Grand Duke Sergei Alexandrovich of Russia February 17,1905
The attempted regicide of Alfonso XIII of Spain and Princess Victoria Eugenie of Battenberg by Catalan anarchist Mateu Morral, May 31, 1906.[39]
  • May 31, 1906 – Catalan anarchist Mateu Morral tries to kill King Alfonso XIII of Spain and Queen Victoria Eugenie immediately after their wedding by throwing a bomb into the procession. The King and Queen are unhurt, but 24 bystanders and horses are killed and over 100 persons injured. Morral is apprehended two days later and commits suicide while being transferred to prison.[39]
  • February 1, 1908 – Manuel Buíça and Alfredo Costa shoot to death King Carlos I of Portugal and his son, Crown Prince Luis Filipe, respectively, in the Lisbon Regicide. Both Buiça and Costa, who are sympathetic to a republican movement in Portugal that includes anarchist elements, are shot dead by police officers.[40]
The 1908 murder of Fr. Leo Heinrichs, contemporary Illustration
Assassination of George I of Greece by Alexandros Schinas in 1913 as depicted in a contemporary lithograph.[44]
  • April to June 1919 – 1919 United States anarchist bombings:
    • April 28 – Mayor Ole Hanson of Seattle, Washington, receives a Galleanist mail bomb (defused)
    • April 29 – A Galleanist mail bomb intended for U.S. Senator Thomas W. Hardwick explodes, burning a servant and blowing off her hands.
    • June 2 – Galleanist Carlo Valdinoci killed when his bomb (intended for the Washington DC home of U.S. Attorney General A. Mitchell Palmer) explodes prematurely.
    • June 3 – New York City night watchman William Boehner killed by a Galleanist bomb placed at a judge's house.
  • September 25, 1919 – The Explosion in Leontievsky Lane kills 12 and injures 55 in Moscow, Russia.
  • September 16, 1920 – The Wall Street bombing kills 38 and wounds 400 in the Manhattan Financial District. Galleanists are believed responsible, particularly Mario Buda, the group's principal bombmaker, although the crime remains officially unsolved.[50]
  • March 8, 1921 – Three anarchists on a motorcycle shoot dead Spanish Prime Minister Eduardo Dato Iradier in Puerta de Alcalá, Madrid.
  • July 14, 1922 – Gustave Bouvet attempts to kill French president Alexandre Millerand.
  • May 25, 1926 – Sholom Schwartzbard assassinates Symon Petliura, head of the government-in-exile of the Ukrainian People's Republic, in Paris. After an eight-day trial, he is acquitted by the jury, which was convinced of Schwartzbard's just cause: the core of his defense was that he was avenging the deaths of victims of pogroms by Petlura's forces. French prosecutors, on the other hand, had argued that Petliura opposed Pogroms, that Schwatzbard was an operative of the Soviet NKVD, and that the assassination of Petliura had been ordered by the Soviet Government. While debates continue over how much responsibility Petliura bore for Pogroms by his forces, since the opening of the Soviet archives, the prosecution has been proven correct in at least one regard. Schwartzbard was an NKVD operative carrying out a political assassination on French soil under orders from the Soviet State.[51][52][53][54]
  • October 31, 1926 – Anteo Zamboni (11 April 1911 – 31 October 1926) was a 15-year-old anarchist who tried to assassinate Benito Mussolini in Bologna, by shooting at him during the parade celebrating the March on Rome. Zamboni, whose shot missed Mussolini, was immediately attacked and lynched by nearby squadristi (fascist squads).[55]
  • 1926–1928 – Several bombings in Argentina organized by the Italian anarchist Severino Di Giovanni, in the frame of the international campaign supporting Sacco and Vanzetti and against Fascist Italy's interests in Argentina. Bombings of the US embassy, of the Buenos Aires offices of City Bank of New York and Bank of Boston, and of the Italian consulate on May 23, 1928.
  • May 1931 Allegedly in retaliation for overhearing the former Monarchist national anthem playing on a record player, Far Left supporters of the Second Spanish Republic launch systematic and nationwide arson attacks against the Catholic Church in Spain, which leave more than one hundred churches, Catholic schools, monasteries, and convents completely destroyed. Whether to intervene to stop the nationwide Church arsons is both urged and discussed in a Cabinet meeting, where the motion is overruled by the Prime Minister of the Republic, Manuel Azaña.
  • September 27, 1932 – A dynamite-filled package bomb left by Galleanists destroys Judge Webster Thayer's home in Worcester, Massachusetts, injuring his wife and a housekeeper.[56][57] Judge Thayer had presided over the trials of Galleanists Sacco and Vanzetti.[58]
  • February 15, 1933Giuseppe Zangara attempts to kill US President Franklin Delano Roosevelt.
  • 1970–1972 – The British Angry Brigade group carries out at least 25 bombings. Almost all property damage, although one person was slightly injured.
  • May 1, 1979 – French group Action Directe carries out a machine gun attack on the employers' federation headquarters.
  • May 30, 1982 – The Canadian group Direct Action (aka "Squamish Five") set off a large bomb at an electricity transmission project. Four transformers were wrecked beyond repair, but no one was injured.
  • November 18, 1982Wanganui Computer Centre bombing, New Zealand
  • 1984 – Bomb-attacks of the Dutch organisation RaRa (Radical Anti-Racist Action) against the Van Heutsz monument (Van Heutsz was the Dutch commander during the Aceh War).
  • 1985–1987 – Dutch RaRa is responsible of several bomb-attacks on the Makro wholesale stores, which was active in South Africa.
  • 1985 – Action Directe assassinates René Audran.
  • June 28, 1988 – US naval and defense attachée in Greece William Nordeen's assassination
  • November 13, 1991 – Dutch RaRa blow up the house of state secretary of justice Aad Kosto.
  • June 30, 1993 – Dutch RaRa are responsible of bomb-attacks on the Dutch ministry of social affairs and employment.
  • November 30, 1999 – Black blocs destroy the storefronts of GAP, Starbucks, Old Navy, and other multi-nationals with retail locations in downtown Seattle during the anti-WTO demonstrations.
  • October 31, 2018 – Anarcho-communist Mikhail Zhlobitsky enters the building of the Russian Federal Security Service (FSB) in Arkhangelsk and commits an explosion at the reception to draw attention to the fact that FSB fabricates political cases and imprisoning people for nothing.
  • July 13, 2019 – Anarchist Willem Van Spronsen attempts to ignite a propane tank in an attack on an ICE detention facility in Tacoma, Washington, USA and is killed in the ensuing police response.[59][60]

Armed propaganda[edit]

Armed propaganda is a type of propaganda used by revolutionary organizations that uses destructive, but ideally not lethal violence to make a political point known to the public and eventually gain supporters for its cause. The term was used in the United States by the Weather Underground to describe some of their bombings.[citation needed] Although armed propaganda can use guns or bombs, its proponents argue that its goal is debatably different from that of pure terrorism.

United States[edit]

Dan Berger, in his book about the Weatherman organization, Outlaws in America, describes the planning section for a townhouse bombing by the group, describing the action as "armed propaganda".[61]

Latin America[edit]

The term has been applied to guerillas in Latin America in their revolutionary literature.[62]

Iran[edit]

Bizhan Jazani used a translation of the term to describe armed struggle in Iran, particularly the Fadai guerrillas.[62]

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ Houen, Alex (1998). "The Secret Agent: Anarchism and the Thermodynamics of Law". ELH. 65 (4): 995–1016. doi:10.1353/elh.1998.0031. S2CID 159570078. Retrieved 28 May 2021.
  2. ^ Anarchist historian George Woodcock, when dealing with the evolution of anarcho-pacifism in the early 20th century, reports that "the modern pacifist anarchists, ...have tended to concentrate their attention largely on the creation of libertarian communities – particularly farming communities – within present society, as a kind of peaceful version of the propaganda by deed." George Woodcock. Anarchism: A History of Libertarian Ideas and Movements (1962), page 20.
  3. ^ a b Merriman, John M. (2016). The Dynamite Club: How a Bombing in Fin-de-Siècle Paris Ignited the Age of Modern Terror. Yale University Press. p. 63. ISBN 978-0300217926 – via Google Books.
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  6. ^ Bakunin, Mikhail (1870). Letter to a Frenchman on the Present Crisis – via Marxists Internet Archive.
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  16. ^ Historian Benedict Anderson thus writes:

    In March 1871 the Commune took power in the abandoned city and held it for two months. Then Versailles seized the moment to attack and, in one horrifying week, executed roughly 20,000 Communards or suspected sympathizers, a number higher than those killed in the recent war or during Robespierre's 'Terror' of 1793–94. More than 7,500 were jailed or deported to places like New Caledonia. Thousands of others fled to Belgium, England, Italy, Spain and the United States. In 1872, stringent laws were passed that ruled out all possibilities of organizing on the left. Not till 1880 was there a general amnesty for exiled and imprisoned Communards. Meanwhile, the Third Republic found itself strong enough to renew and reinforce Louis Napoleon's imperialist expansion—in Indochina, Africa, and Oceania. Many of France's leading intellectuals and artists had participated in the Commune (Courbet was its quasi-minister of culture, Rimbaud and Pissarro were active propagandists) or were sympathetic to it. The ferocious repression of 1871 and thereafter, was probably the key factor in alienating these milieux from the Third Republic and stirring their sympathy for its victims at home and abroad. Anderson, Benedict (July–August 2004). "In the World-Shadow of Bismarck and Nobel". New Left Review. New Left Review. II (28): 85–129.

    According to some analysts, in post-war Germany, the prohibition of the Communist Party (KPD) and thus of institutional far-left political organization may also, in the same manner, have played a role in the creation of the Red Army Faction.
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  21. ^ Galleani, Luigi, La Fine Dell'Anarchismo?, ed. Curata da Vecchi Lettori di Cronaca Sovversiva, University of Michigan (1925), pp. 61–62: Galleani's writings are clear on this point: he had undisguised contempt for those who refused to both advocate and directly participate in the violent overthrow of capitalism.
  22. ^ a b Galleani, Luigi, Faccia a Faccia col Nemico, Boston, MA: Gruppo Autonomo, (1914)
  23. ^ a b Avrich, Paul, Sacco and Vanzetti: The Anarchist Background, Princeton University Press (1991), pp. 51, 98–99
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  41. ^ Union Square Bombing 1908
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Bibliography[edit]