"History is indeed little more than the register of the crimes, follies and misfortunes of mankind." ~ Edward Gibbon
Is It Islamic Fundamentalist Terrorism or Something Else?
The recent article in The Economist magazine linked to on Tuesday's STR typically focused on the murders and terrorism of the Anarchist movement around this time in the last century. Of course, assassinating rulers is not new, nor is the ideological defense of murder for political aims. Just look at the contortions Bush's defenders get into to defend his murders and war crimes ' all for freedom, of course. But any scheme to use assassination as a wide scale effort to turn the tables on the state and to terrorize it, has already been tried, terrorists like Pat Robertson notwithstanding. Does the history of political assassinations show us that as a method of liberation it has any positive results? Does freedom follow from assassination and war? One of the most famous movements in history, and that gave its name as a synonym for short-sighted fanaticism, were the Zealots that opposed Roman rule over Judea and in particular over the Jewish Holy City of Jerusalem. The Zealots organized resistance and carried out sporadic uprisings and attacks on Roman power. Some Zealots adopted the tactic of assassination and terrorism and were called the Sicarii ' the Dagger Men ' who murdered Romans, non-Roman foreigners and Jews who collaborated with the occupation, similar to the Sunni insurgents in Iraq today. The Sicarii spread terror throughout Judea as the Zealots launched an uprising against Rome. That uprising initially seemed successful until under Vespasian and later his son Titus, Rome's Legions mercilessly reclaimed the land and leveled Jerusalem to the ground. The Jews were hounded from their homeland and scattered over the Mediterranean. The Zealots used the tactics of the state to save their people and culture from Roman domination, and in the end, they lost nearly everything. Assassination was also a favored tactic to dispatch Roman tyrants. In total, 31 Roman Emperors were murdered by poison, stabbing or strangulation. Not included in this number is perhaps the most famous political murder, that of Julius Caesar by Brutus and the other conspirators of the fading republican cause, who called themselves the Liberators. This event is particularly instructive. The assassins murdered Caesar to save the Republic from his dictatorship. Unfortunately, Julius Caesar was very popular with the populace of Rome and they flocked to the leadership of his adopted heir, Octavian, who would go on to hunt down the assassins and eventually crush all opposition and end the period of Civil Wars. As the dictator in all but name, Octavian would adopt the quasi-divine status of Augustus and officially claim to have "restored the Republic." The public's surrender to the military strongman who they believe is necessary to stave off the unknown is a theme that returns again and again in history, as it has returned in our own day. Besides the various judicial murders of the French Revolution and the Napoleonic and Restoration Eras, assassination as an ideological device would gain a wider use in the modern period. For instance, the duc de Berry, King Louis XVIII's nephew, was assassinated by a fanatical Bonapartist named Louis-Pierre Louvel, who thought that killing the last Bourbon capable of producing an heir would extinguish the Royal line and bring about a Napoleonic restoration. However, the Cato Street Conspiracy in England was somewhat more cold-blooded. Arthur Thistlewood and his gang initially plotted to blow up the Parliament building and everyone inside (like Guy Fawkes 300 years earlier) and declare a provisional republican government. This proving too impractical, he settled on merely killing the entire Cabinet with an assortment of guns, bombs and grenades. Thistlewood and 25 other men planned to storm the house where the Cabinet was meeting for dinner and butcher the inhabitants. The heads of the Foreign Minister and the Home Secretary were to be cut off and paraded on pikes through the streets. Unknown to Thistlewood, there was a spy in his organization and the plot was uncovered. Thistlewood and four others were hanged, and five others were transported to the penal colonies of Australia. Other assassination plots involved the "Citizen King" Louis-Philippe and Napoleon III. In the former, the would-be assassin, Giuseppe Fieschi, a former thief and later a spy within the Bonapartist party for the Bourbon's secret police, invented a machine that could fire 25 rifles at once. In 1835, Fieschi and his allies fired this device at the passing King and his sons, missing them, but killing 18 bystanders, and wounding many more. Fieschi and the others were captured and guillotined. Instead of republican uprisings, the result was the regime tightened repression that silenced and drove the opposition underground for the next decade. The would-be assassin of Napoleon III was Felice Orsini, an Italian nationalist, who thought that killing Louis-Napoleon would precipitate a general popular revolution in France that would spread to Italy to expel the various foreign regimes then ruling the divided peninsula. Orsini and his two accomplices bombed the carriage containing Napoleon and his wife, Eugenie, but both were unhurt, and the bombs instead killed several innocent bystanders. Orsini and his partners were captured and executed, too. And this brings us to the period which has created so much trouble for those of us who describe ourselves as market anarchists today. Some anarchists of the Bakuninst and Kropotkin school adopted assassination and random terrorism as a tactic designed to expose the weakness of the state, as detailed in The Economist piece. This toll of murders, violence and destruction of property created in the public imagination and amongst the news media the image of the anarchist as the mad bomber and the violent fanatic which has persisted to the present day. And it is this same image of the violent revolutionary that motivates the rioters and looters who like to call themselves anarchists while arguing for tariffs, more welfare spending and higher taxes on gasoline. Following the formulation given by the Italian anarchist Errico Malatesta, of "propaganda by the deed" ' that anarchist ideas could best be spread by armed insurrection ' a wave of bombings and random terror and assassinations of rulers struck during the turn of the last century. Malatesta himself spent a total of twelve years in prison for his views, and was hounded by various regimes while in exile for nearly 30 years. Assassinations of ruling figures (whether hereditary or elected politicians) was designed to illustrate the vulnerability of the regime and inspire the public to rise up and overthrow the state. In this way, amid the other numerous assassinations of businessmen, priests and others, were the assassinations of high-ranking figures. These assassinations included several that are well-known, such as: * The fourth President of the Third French Republic, Sadi Carnot, was stabbed to death by the Italian anarchist Sante Caserio in 1894. * The Prime Minister of Spain, Antonio Canovas del Castillo, was shot dead in front of his wife by the Italian anarchist Michele Angiolillo in 1897. * The neurotic Austro-Hungarian Empress Elizabeth was stabbed to death in Geneva by the Italian anarchist Luigi Luccheni in 1898. * The King of Italy, Umberto I, was assassinated by the Italian anarchist Gaetano Bresci in 1900. * And President McKinley was shot on Sept. 6, 1901 by the Polish anarchist Leon Czolgosz. It was because of this assassination that Congress passed repressive measures that barred anarchists from entering the United States ' all immigrants had to publicly declare whether they were an anarchist or not ' and foreign-born anarchists within the country were expelled. Anarchism during WWI was suppressed with prominent anarchists like Emma Goldman and Alexander Berkman (the attempted assassin of Henry Clay Frick) and others either being deported or imprisoned. The Japanese anarchist movement was wiped out after the discovery of their plot to assassinate the Emperor in 1911. Anarchists murdered bankers, priests, land owners, factory managers and others during the second Spanish Republic. The Spanish, Italian and German anarchist movements were exterminated by Franco, Mussolini and Hitler, with broad national public support for their action against these bandits, thugs and murderers. After the success of the Bolshevik Revolution, anarchism was either swallowed up by the resurgent Communist movements around the world, or exterminated by Communist agents. The dangers of providing ideological justification for assassination can be seen again from examples from history, which shows that the use of assassination has unforeseen consequences. Non-anarchists turned to assassination of political leaders to advance popular agendas. A few examples are the assassination of Czar Alexander II in 1901 by the political terrorist organization the People's Will, and a Croatian nationalist assassinated King Alexander I of Serbia in 1903. And of course the most destructive assassination in history, that of Franz Ferdinand and his wife by the Bosnian Serb, Gavrilo Princip, in 1914, plunged Europe by its series of mutual defense treaties into the World War and the collapse of classical liberal civilization. All of these aforementioned anarchist assassinations, all these attempts to turn assassination into a political weapon to destroy the existing state establishment, had several things in common, but more important than this was their result. The assassinations engendered widespread public revulsion for the act and the perpetrators, sympathy for the victims and their families, and strengthening of the state's powers and renewed public support for the regime. Each terrorized state brought down new repressive measures. Moderation gave way to authoritarianism, just as we have witnessed in the post-9/11 era, as public opinion deified the presidency and the State (the latest manifestation of the military-backed strongman single-handedly holding back the forces of chaos). Assassinations unleash a terrorized--and terrified--State determined to protect its privileges no matter how many of its and other people it must torture, imprison and kill. Assassination as a strategy to rid the world of a tyrant hasn't proven all that successful a tactic, instead bringing down a wave of militarism and increased tyranny. The historical response to anarchist assassinations were not popular uprisings, but draconian measures. Looking back through history shows us that any State threatened by a movement to deny its authority to tax and rule responds by lashing out. Abraham Lincoln terrorized Americans with the specter of secession devolving into Hobbesian "anarchy" to justify his war. Any appeal to the State to behave with moderation and to respect the rights of people would be overwhelmed by the State's claim of preventing crime and disorder. A State that sees its authority rebuked and attacked responds without accepting limits on what it can do. The approval for assassinations, torture, extra-judicial detention and military trials in the wake of 9/11 are a hint of the powers a terrorized State routinely claims in its self-appointed role as defender of the people. This shouldn't be unknown, since the State already shows contempt for property and life through its methods of random violence and murder, and imitating it couldn't advance the adoption of liberty among the general public. The wholesale failure of the old Anarchists can be credited to their adoption of the morality (such as it is) of the State itself. The State attracts and rewards the worst elements in society, and by adopting murder as its chief strategy, the old Anarchists attracted those same elements who relish the opportunity to kill for sport and reward. How can you morally oppose a band of thugs and assassins with . . . assassins and thugs? To do so, you become . . . just like a State itself. And we can see, the end results of this perverse view of righteous murder, which infects the fevered brains of George W. Bush and the Reich-wing, neoconned Brownshirts of Red-State America, in the observation made by Paul Johnson (himself a quasi-neocon and supporter of the immolation of Iraq). In his book The Birth of the Modern, he describes the effects of the sort of self-righteousness that followed in the wake of politicized murder: "Perhaps the most significant characteristic of the dawning modern world . . . was the tendency to relate everything to politics. In Latin America, every would-be plunderer or ambitious bandit now called himself a 'liberator'; murderers killed for freedom, thieves stole for the people . . . . Organized crime now took on a party label and put forward a program and thereby became better organized and a more formidable threat to society. Thus violence acquired moral standing and the public was terrorized for its own good . . . . In the past, men with a grievance had suffered in silence or taken to the hills and robbed. Now the hitherto resigned joined secret societies, and the bandits called themselves politicians." The main problem with assassination is its philosophical failure: assassination is terrorism. The entire strategy depends on random murder, with no attempt to gain the support of public opinion. If assassinating political leaders was popular, the assassination of a particularly evil politician would send the people into the streets to celebrate, and the assassin would be hailed as a hero and savior. This doesn't happen. Just as the American people, instead of blaming the State for 9/11, surrendered to its aggressions, the general public in other times and places didn't have the proper knowledge to understand and place events in their proper context. The public perhaps rallies to the State because they fear any force that is strong enough to destroy it, and thus fear the great power they don't know more than the evil they do know. The Anarchist assassins only made the people fear them and discredited their ideas. True political change can only come, not from the barrel of a gun, but from the throats and pens of reformers to bring knowledge to the people to get them to understand freedom and to understand the State. If you oppose the State, what makes you different from--and better than--the State is your ideas and your methods. But by adopting the ideas and methods of the State ' even to use against the State itself ' the old Anarchists weren't engaged in poetic justice, but the end of their own credibility and the liberty of the people. In assassinating politicians, the old Anarchists committed suicide for themselves and what they had to say. The old Anarchists, like today's Al-Qaeda and the various Jihadi groups, lowered themselves to the level of politicians and the other bandits, looters and murderers that comprise the political machine. Engaging in the sort of gang warfare that defines politics discredits any movement against the State. The lesson of the old Anarchists is a moral one. Don't adopt the methods of the State. Oppose them.