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Propaganda of the deed (or propaganda by the deed, from the French propagande par le fait) is a concept that promotes physical violence against political enemies as a way of inspiring the masses and catalyzing revolution. Propaganda of the deed may take many forms, but in many cases uses violence against people seen as threats to the working class. It also refers to the use of symbolic acts of violence against structural targets, in which the act is intended to evoke a broader meaning.
An early proponent of propaganda by the deed was the Italian revolutionary Carlo Pisacane (1818â1857), who wrote in his "Political Testament" (1857) that "ideas spring from deeds and not the other way around." Mikhail Bakunin (1814â1876), 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."
The phrase "propaganda by the deed" was popularized by the French anarchist Paul Brousse (1844â1912). In his article of that name, published in the August 1877 Bulletin of the Jura Federation, he cited the 1871 Paris Commune, a workers' demonstration in Bern provocatively using the socialist red flag, and the Benevento uprising in Italy as examples of "propaganda by the deed."
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." 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.
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. However, as soon as 1887, important figures in the anarchist movement distanced themselves from such individual acts. 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". 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."
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.
Other theorists advocating propaganda of the deed included the Italian anarchists Luigi Galleani and Errico Malatesta. Malatesta described "propaganda by the deed" as violent communal insurrections that were meant to ignite the imminent revolution.
It should be noted that Malatesta denounced terrorism. Here is some of what he says in his essay:
For the German anarchist Gustav Landauer "propaganda of the deed" meant the creation of libertarian social forms and communities that would inspire others to transform society. 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."
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. His 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".
Propaganda of the deed is also related to illegalism, an anarchist philosophy that developed primarily in France, Italy, Belgium, and Switzerland during the early 20th century as an outgrowth of anarchist individualism. The illegalists openly embraced criminality as a lifestyle. Influenced by theorist Max Stirner's concept of "egoism", the illegalists broke from anarchists like Clément Duval and Marius Jacob who justified theft with a theory of la reprise individuelle (Eng: individual reclamation). Instead, the illegalists argued that their actions required no moral basis - illegal acts were taken not in the name of a higher ideal, but in pursuit of one's own desires. France's Bonnot Gang was the most famous group to embrace illegalism.
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 sociologist Max Weber had argued, the state has the "monopoly on the legitimate use of physical force", or, 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. 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 false flag terrorist actions, 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.
Numerous heads of state were assassinated between 1881 and 1914 by members of the libertarian socialist movement. Regicides were for obvious reasons celebrated as popular victory over counter-revolutionary forces, which remained strong a century after the 1789 French Revolution. The first assassinations were carried out by Russian anarchists, which would lead to the creation of the term of "nihilism". For example, U.S. President McKinley's assassin Leon Czolgosz claimed to have been influenced by anarchist and feminist Emma Goldman. This was in spite of Goldman's disavowal of any association with him, his registered membership in the Republican Party, and never having belonged to an anarchist organization. Bombings were associated in the media with anarchists because international terrorism arose during this time period with the widespread distribution of dynamite. This image remains to this day. This perception was enhanced by events such as the 1886 Haymarket Riot, where anarchists were blamed for throwing a bomb at police who came to break up a public meeting in Chicago, Illinois.
History of terrorism
|Anarchist â· Communist â· Eco-terrorism â· Ethnic
Narcoterrorism â· Nationalist
|Types and tactics|
|Agro-terrorism â· Aircraft hijacking (list)
Bioterrorism â· Car bombing (list)
Environmental â· Nuclear
Piracy â· Propaganda of the deed
Proxy bomb â· Suicide attack (list)
Iran â· Pakistan â· Russia
Sri Lanka â· United States
Terrorist front organization
Terrorist training camp
Clandestine cell system
|Reign of Terror
Red Terror â· White Terror
Charities accused of ties to terrorism
Propaganda of the deed, as a violent form of direct action involving bombings and targeted assassinations, was abandoned by the vast majority of the anarchist movement after World War I (1914â18) and the 1917 October Revolution. There are various causes for this, but important factors include state repression, the level of organization of the labour movement (in particular the new importance of anarcho-syndicalism in European Latin countries such as France, Italy and Spain) and the influence of the October Revolution. Although the Leninist thesis of an avant-garde party composed of professional revolutionaries didn't break that much with the Socialist-Revolutionary organization, it did make completely individual acts of propaganda of the deed less relevant. Despite this abandonment, the concept of propaganda of the deed remained popular in the anarchist movement, and thus influenced various social and cultural movements, including the Underground, during the 20th century.
For example, the concept of direct action itself continued to be central in the libertarian socialist movement, in particular in the anarcho-syndicalism movement through the concept of the "revolutionary strike" inspired by French theorist Georges Sorel's Reflections on Violence (1908). In the 1950s, the Situationist International's conception of creating "situations" may be related quite easily to propaganda of the deed (which is not surprising, given the influence of council communism on Guy Debord). The autonomist movement and urban guerrilla group then took on the concept in the 1970s. It is also during this period that the concept of culture jamming, Spaßguerilla, guerrilla communication and other kinds of non-violent and sometimes simultaneously artistic and political acts become popular as a new form of âdirect actionâ. The Living Theater, in the 1970s, for example, mixed direct actions with an artistic intent, mixing, as did before them André Breton and the Surrealist movement, Arthur Rimbaud's "change life" with Karl Marx' XIth These on Feuerbach, "transform the world."
The importance of riots and rebellions in the creation of the conditions of an insurrection has never been abandoned, going through anarcho-syndicalism to autonomism and today's anti-globalization mediatic Black blocs. In the 2000s, a Swedish group called the Invisible Party carried on various direct actions which could be related to the tradition of the propaganda of the deed.
The concept of "propaganda of the deed" received renewed attention in the 1970s-1980s, especially among "urban guerrilleros" and the Italian autonomist movement, which had a large part in the creation of the squatting and Social Center movement.
Since some of the most radical autonomist or other far-left activists engaged not only in direct action (stealing, squatting, bank robberies - called expropriations - etc.) but also in assassination and bombing, "propaganda of the deed" again became synonymous with terrorism. For example, the German Red Army Faction (RAF) kidnapped and murdered Hanns Martin Schleyer, who was president of the German Employer's Association and a former high-ranking SS member during the Third Reich, and targeted NATO centers.
The appearance in developed countries during the 1970s of militant leftist groups - such as the Red Brigades, the RAF or the less important French Action Directe - which, although they were not anarchists, did engage in âpropaganda of the deedâ - were part of larger social movements. These included the autonomist movement in Italy, which practiced various types of âdirect actionâ other than assassinations (in Italy, shootings in the legs was more often used). These new groups viewed their actions from a global point of view, in order to link them with âworld strugglesâ, such as the Vietnam War (1965â75) or with South American struggles against military juntas (see for example the RAF's actions against NATO and its ideological relations with Uruguayan Tupamaros). In Italy, the concept of a "strategy of tension" (strategia della tensione) directly carried on by far-right forces linked to the security forces was popular in extra-parliamentary leftist movements; its existence was proved after Italian Premier Giulio Andreotti's 1990 revelations concerning Gladio, a NATO stay-behind anti-communist organization, and the parliamentary inquiries into the bombings carried on during this period (1969 Piazza Fontana bombing, 1980 Bologna massacre, etc.).
Anarchists and similar radicals often claim that their use of âpolitical violenceâ is not terrorism, arguing that there is a fundamental difference between bombings carried out against a civilian population and targeted assassinations carried out against people in positions of political, military or economic power (even if non-combatants under international law).They emphasize that many[quantify] scholars define terrorism as the attempt to spread terror in the population through indiscriminate bombings, thus excluding anarchist propaganda of the deed from the definition of terrorism. This concept is a major theme in the upcoming 'Blueprint For Revolution' by noted activist Nigel Downey.
The United Nations Security Council, acting under Chapter VII of the UN Charter defined the term 'terrorism' as consisting of "Criminal acts, including against civilians, committed with the intent to cause death or serious bodily injury, or taking of hostages, with the purpose to provoke a state of terror in the general public or in a group of persons or particular persons, intimidate a population or compel a government or an international organization to do or to abstain from doing any act." As such, assassinations, if they are done to provoke a state of terror in the public or amongst particular persons, intimidate a population, or compel a government or international organization to bend to the will of the assassinating organization, are acts of terrorism, at least in the unanimous view of the Security Council, speaking both for the UN and for its fifteen nations.
The use of political violence is understood by its proponents in the frame of a general conception of the state as the control apparatus of the âbourgeoisieâ, and of âclass struggleâ as a form of effective civil war. Thus, as anarchists often put it, "peace without justice isn't peace", but war between exploited and exploiters. In their eyes, this "social war" morally legitimizes the use of violence against broader "social violence." This view, of course, is not shared by pacifist libertarians. Rioting is thus justified as a means to enhance class consciousness and prepares the objective conditions for a popular uprising (Georges Sorel, 1906).
A heated controversy concerning the use of violence continues to take place inside the anarchist movement. Even those who are not opposed to the political use of violence for theoretical reasons (as pacifist anarchists are) may consider it unnecessary or strategically dangerous, in certain conditions. Many note that the events of 1970s showed clearly how terrorism may be used to influence politics in the frame of the "strategy of tension" by a state and its secret services, through agents provocateurs and false flag terrorist attacks. In Italy and other countries, the Years of lead led to reinforced anti-terrorism legislation, criticized by social activists as a new form of lois scélérates which were used to repress the whole of the socialist movement, not just militant groups. Many also note that the rare cases in which terrorism has achieved its revolutionary aims are mostly in the context of national liberation struggles, while the urban guerrilla movements have all failed (Gérard Chaliand).
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According to some analysts, in post-war Germany, the prohibition of the Communist Party (KDP) 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.
"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 Robespierreâs âTerrorâ of 1793â94. 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 Napoleonâs imperialist expansionâ in Indochina, Africa, and Oceania. Many of Franceâs 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." (in Benedict Anderson (July -August 2004). "In the World-Shadow of Bismarck and Nobel". New Left Review. http://newleftreview.org/?view=2519. )
Related topics in the Connexions Subject Index
Anarchism Critiques –
Class Analysis –
Class Conflict/Class Struggle –
First International –
Left, The –
Left History –
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Libertarian Socialism –
Mark, Karl –
Marxism Overviews –
Radical Political Theory –
Revolutionary Politics –
Social Change –
State, The –
Strategies for Social Change
Alternatives – Anarchism – Anarchism Critiques – Anti-Marxism – Class Analysis – Class Conflict/Class Struggle – Emancipation – First International – Freedom – Left, The – Left History – Libertarian Politics – Libertarian Socialism – Libertarianism – Mark, Karl – Marxism – Marxism Overviews – Radical Political Theory – Revolution – Revolutionary Politics – Social Change – Socialism – State, The – Strategies for Social Change
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