Anarchism: The First Great Terror

The Propaganda of the Deed.

At a time when we are often warned of the heightened threat of global terrorism and of the drastic measures required to combat it, it is worth remembering that the use of terror to achieve political ends is not a recent phenomena. At the turn of the 19th century there was a political ideology that perceived murder and assassination, not as the means to an end, but as a path to salvation. Anarchists would make their mark on political history through propaganda by deed. Here I highlight just a few of the most notorious deeds, of what was to be the first great terror.

1)  I March, 1881, Tsar Alexander II of Russia is blown apart by a bomb thrown by Ignacy Hrnywiecki (see related article) of Narodnya i Volya (The People’s Will).

2) 11March, 1892, the French anarchist Ravachol (related article) bombs the Lobau Barracks in Paris.

3) 10 December, 1893, Auguste Vailant throws a bomb into the French Chamber of Deputies injuring 20 in revenge for the execution of Ravachol.

4) 12 February, 1894, Emile Henry (related article) blows up the the Cafe Terminus in Paris killing 2 and maiming many others in revenge for the execution of Vailant.

5) 24 June, 1894, the Italian anarchist Sante Jeronimo Caserio, assassinates the French President Marie-Francoise Sade Carnot.

6) 8 August, 1897, Michele Angiolillo assassinates the Spanish Prime Minister Antonio Canovas.

7) 10 September, 1898, Luigi Lucheni stabs to death with a needle file the Empress Elisabeth of Austria-Hungary.

Anarchism: The First Great Terror
Gaetano Bresci

Gaetano Bresci

29 July, 1900, Gaetano Bresci shoots dead King Umberto I of Italy.

9) 6 September, 1901, Leon Czolgosc shoots the United States President William H McKinlay, he dies later.

10) 2 September, 1902, Gennaro Rubino attempts to murder King Leopold II of Belgium.

11) Between 25 July and 2 August, 1909, during La Tragica Semana (The Tragic Week) 120 people are killed and many hundreds of others wounded as anarchists battle the police and army on the streets of Barcelona.

12) 14 September, 1911, Dmitri Bogrov shoots dead the Russian Prime Minister Piotr Stolypin at the theatre, as the Tsar sits nearby.

13) 12 November, 1912, Manuel Padrinas kills the Spanish Prime Minister Jose Canalejas.

14) 10 March, 1913, Alexander Schinas assassinates King George I of Greece.

15) 22 July, 1916, a bomb explodes during the San Francisco Preparadeness Day Parade killing 10 And injuring 40.

16) March, 1918, the anarchist revoutionary Nestor Makhno (related article) leads his Insurrectionary Army of the Ukraine to victory over the forces of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, and the Tsarist White Russian Army.

17) 16 September, 1920, the Wall Street bombing leaves 38 dead and injures more than 400 others.

The often uncoordinated, spontaneous nature of anarchist attacks made them particularly difficult to combat. The fact they seemed to be committed by individuals on their own initiative to right perceived wrongs as they saw them terrified the political elite of Europe and beyond. The quite astonishing number of the ruling class who fell victim to this propaganda by deed explains why. As a ratio of their intended targets the anarchists can claim to be the most successful terror campaign in history, but the absence of an organisation, a strategy, or indeed murder with an end in mind, doomed it to ultimate failure.