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A non-existent bomb-plot, featuring an Agent Provocateur
The Walsall Anarchists were a group of anarchists arrested on explosive charges in Walsall in 1892.
Although the British Home Office and the Metropolitan Police attempted to conceal the evidence for over 80 years, recent research into police files has revealed that the bombings were instigated by Auguste Coulon, an agent provocateur of Special Branch Inspector William Melville, who would go on to found what became the MI5.
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Page last updated at 11:08 GMT, Wednesday, 7 October 2009 12:08 UK
Was this man the first terrorist of the modern age?
John Merriman is the Charles Seymour professor of history at Yale University and author of The Dynamite Club: How a Bombing in Fin-De-Siecle Paris Ignited the Age of Modern Terror, published by JR Books.
Emile Henry's attack on a cafe in 1894, which killed one person
It's eight years to the day since the first shots were fired in America's War on Terror. But can the terrorism tactics it sought to crush be traced back to a single attack on a Parisian cafe more than 100 years ago, asks Professor John Merriman.
On February 12, 1894, a young intellectual anarchist named Emile Henry went out to kill. And, in doing so, he arguably ignited the age of modern terrorism.
As he had looked down on Paris from near his miserable lodgings in the plebeian 20th arrondissement on the edge of Paris, he vowed war on the bourgeoisie. His specific goal was to avenge the execution of Auguste Vaillant a week earlier.
Unable to feed his family, Vaillant had thrown a small bomb into the Chamber of Deputies, slightly wounding several people. His goal: to call attention to the plight of the poor.
Unlike previous anarchist bombers, Henry was an intellectual
Now, armed with a bomb hidden under his coat, Henry walked up the Avenue de l'Opera, pausing at several elegant cafes, but he moved on because they were not full enough. He entered the Cafe Terminus, which is still there, near the Gare St Lazare, ordered two beers, and a cigar.
With the latter he lit the fuse of his bomb, and threw it into the cafe, leaving carnage behind. Amid thick, acrid smoke, marble tables, metal chairs, and mirrors had shattered. The screams and shouts of those wounded joined the smoke.
Henry ran away, before being wrestled to the ground after a fierce struggle. In the cafe, 20 people had been wounded, some very seriously, one of whom would die.
Along with the bombing of the Liceo theatre in Barcelona, the attack on the Cafe Terminus signalled a marked change in targets of terrorists.
Where before it was policemen or heads of state - the French president Sadi Carnot was assassinated the same year - who were the targets of violent anarchists, now it was ordinary people. The bourgeois.
At his trial, Henry described how his love for humanity had been transformed into hatred for the ruling classes. Fifteen months earlier, one of his bombs had killed five policemen. Now he had gone out to kill bourgeois because they were who they were.
Henry was executed, by guillotine, three months after his attack
He had "no respect for human life, because the bourgeois themselves have absolutely none".
Emile Henry was guillotined at age 21.
There are of course salient differences between the terrorists of the 1890s and those in our world. For one thing, the role of religious fundamentalism, such as so-called jihadists who subscribe to al-Qaeda's world view, was not a part of anarchist attacks.
However, can we find useful parallels between Henry's bomb, or "deed" as the violent anarchists used to call such attacks, and terrorism today?
Then, as now, terrorists targeted anyone identified with their enemies. Moreover, both cut across social boundaries. Unlike the notorious French anarchist bombers Ravachol and Vaillant, who were decidedly down and out, Emile Henry was an intellectual.
Both groups have used weapons that levelled the playing fields. Dynamite, invented in 1868 by Alfred Nobel, represented as one contemporary put it "a modern revolutionary alchemy".
An American anarchist crowed, before being hanged in Chicago following the famous police riot at Haymarket, "in giving dynamite to the downtrodden millions of the globe, science has done its best work."
Both share a fervent belief in ideology, and confidence that eventually they will win - providing an apocalyptical, even millenarian aspect to terrorists
Likewise, road-side bombs in today's world have emerged as a weapon of choice. And then, as now, terrorist practitioners seek "revolutionary immortality" - hoping to inspire others with their heroic demise. Suicide bombers, however, with the exception of Kamikaze pilots, are a new phenomenon.
Both sets of terrorists target a powerful enemy, a structure they set out to destroy. For the anarchists, the enemy was the state, and the pillars that supported it - capitalism, the army, and the Church, with Henry adding the bourgeoisie.
For the anarchists, only the destruction of the state could bring equality and thus happiness.
In the case of jihadists today, the West and particularly the power of the United States stand as the target.
Moreover, both share a fervent belief in ideology, and confidence that eventually they will win. This provides something of an apocalyptical, even millenarian aspect to terrorists, many of whom are young, intent on changing the world.
In dealing with terrorism, both the French government more than 100 years ago and American officials in the early period of the Iraq and Afghan conflicts, had a tendency to look for a centrally organised, massive conspiracy. Instead, they ought to have acknowledged the role of small groups or even isolated individuals undertaking locally organised, or freelance operations undertaken by "self-starter" terrorist groups.
Yet, there remains a fundamental difference between revolutionary violence and resistance violence, although they may well share tactics. The latter has in the 20th Century and beyond, been directed at occupying powers, for example, Israel, French forces in Algeria, and the US in Vietnam and Iraq.
Revolutionary and resistance terrorism, however, have in common that their violence is directed against states that they view as oppressive and whose presence they consider unjust.
The anarchist attacks in the 1890s remind us of another dimension of terror where some people accuse the state itself of terrorism, undertaken often violently by a repressive state against its own people (or against those in places it invades or occupies).
This variety of terrorism is often conveniently forgotten or overlooked.
Indeed, one theory has it that "terrorism" began with the state, during the radical phase of the French Revolution.
Henry had been deeply affected by the state's increased repression of all dissidents. His father had seen state terror up close, condemned to death in absentia for having been a militant in the Paris Commune of 1871, after which at least 20,000 Parisians perished.
The over-reaction of state authorities in France, as well as in Italy and Spain, during the heyday of anarchist attacks did not work. Anarchists arrested in the systematic repression by the police in 1894, including a number of anarchist intellectuals put on trial that same year, accused of being in an "association of evil-doers," were not terrorists.
The French government used the panic that the anarchist bombs understandably brought to crack down on dissidents. The repression undercut the government's claim on moral authority. The French government in the 1890s did not torture prisoners - their Spanish counterpart did - public revulsion turned against the government and indeed the wave of attacks ended.
More than 100 years later, it is a policy from which today's elected leaders could, perhaps, learn.
In the late 17th century, Qing official Yu Yonghe recorded that injured Dutch soldiers fighting against Koxinga's forces for control of Taiwan in 1661 would use gunpowder to blow up both themselves and their opponents rather than be taken prisoner.
During the Belgian Revolution, the Dutch Lieutenant Jan van Speijk detonated his own ship in the harbour of Antwerp to prevent being captured by the Belgians.
Another example was the Prussian soldier Karl Klinke on 18 April 1864 at the Battle of Dybbøl, when he blew a hole in a Danish fortification.
Modern suicide bombing as a political tool can be traced back to the assassination of Czar Alexander II of Russia in 1881. Alexander fell victim to a Nihilist plot. While driving on one of the central streets of Saint Petersburg, near the Winter Palace, he was mortally wounded by the explosion of hand-made grenades and died a few hours afterwards. The Tzar was killed by a member of Narodnaya Volya, Ignacy Hryniewiecki, who died while intentionally exploding the bomb during the attack.
Rudolf Christoph Freiherr von Gersdorff intended to assassinate Adolf Hitler by suicide bomb in 1943, but was unable to complete the attack.
n extremist ideology is sweeping across Europe. Fundamentalist terrorist groups are operating in London. They want to end the British way of life and a minority are prepared to bomb and kill to get what they want.
But the year is 1892: Victorian England, where the government is fighting a war on terror against many of its own citizens.
Over 100 years later, Britain is home to another community which some claim is in deep conflict with its fundamental values.
The Enemy Within explores the discontent which fuelled radical sentiment in the 19th century and the anger that fuels it again today.
It tells the story of a largely forgotten period of English history - an Anarchist insurgency that took place in Victorian London - and examines the parallels that can be drawn with the modern-day war on terror.
A cast of non-professional actors, young British Muslims, speak the words of the 19th-century Anarchists involved with the terror campaign. Their performances are intercut with interviews in which they explain how they feel about being a Muslim in Britain today.
The programme uses surveillance-style camera techniques to evoke an atmosphere of tension and paranoia as it examines the feelings of oppression, persecution and anger that can lead to extremism.
A train station. Surveillance cameras zoom in on a young British Muslim speaking into a mobile phone. We hear his intercepted words: "Everyone knows society is on the verge of another great revolution," he says. "For my part I'm willing to suffer for my ideas ... they will not crush this movement by repression they will only make it more revolutionary and more dangerous".
We are, it would appear, in the familiar terrain of yet another TV current affairs expose about British jihadists. But, while Channel 4 is broadcasting The Enemy Within tonight in the slot usually occupied by Dispatches, the programme strays far from the conventions of current affairs. The documentary uses British Muslims recruited from outside mosques to play the roles of 19th-century revolutionary anarchists.
The purpose is to draw parallels between the aims and activities of revolutionary anarchists 120 years ago and radical jihadists today. According to the documentary the parallels are eerie: then as now there were bombs on public transport, angry young men intent on death and destruction and a fear that the British way of life was under threat. In The Enemy Within young Muslims quote from anarchist manifestos, Nick Ferrari and Vanessa Feltz read tabloid press stories from the time, while Jon Snow delivers news of the explosions that rocked London at the end of the 19th century.
It is compelling and it was born, according to the director Joe Bullman, from a frustration with traditional forms of documentary. "News and current affairs documentaries have become so ritualistic," says Bullman, "So stuck in traditional styles and intellectual grooves, that they limit any imaginative thinking about our world. How many more secret mosque exposes and blurry images of young Asian men walking through ticket-barriers are you going to see in your life?"
But Bullman's approach carries dangers. The central argument in The Enemy Within is that today's British Muslim jihadists have much in common with radical anarchists but while Bullman draws out the parallels with chilling skill the significant differences are left unstated. Bullman's film may not be historically subtle. It is, however, a provocative and brave attempt to understand the present by exploring the past and a reminder that while history does not always repeat it does occasionally rhyme.
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^ The portrayal of Muslims as the anarchists of the 19th century in 'The Enemy Within' may or may not be used to serve as a bridge to the 'Jewish' terrorists who targeted the London Underground in 1883 and would be thus easing in the idea of random indifferent terrorist acts, allegedly not sponsored by the state, being committed by Jews or anarchists (so as to pre-fabricate a future narrative).
England People Very Nice
a new play by Richard Bean
Daily Mail, The Daily Telegraph, The Mail on Sunday, The Sunday Times, The Times, Time Out
‘A giddily enjoyable evening…what could matter more than a play which makes audiences look at themselves, which provokes people, through laughter, into feeling uneasy as they laugh.’ Observer
'A seriously hilarious play, a provocative, swaggering, humane, edgy comedy of immigration, integration and disintegration…Unmissable.’ The Sunday Times
‘Who would think that unsexy subject, waves of immigration into Bethnal Green, could generate as much enjoyable ebullience as it does in Richard Bean’s new play?’ The Times
A riotous journey through four waves of immigration from the 17th century to today. As the French Huguenots, the Irish, the Jews and the Bangladeshis in turn enter the chaotic world of Bethnal Green, each new influx provokes a surge of violent protest over housing, jobs, religion and culture. And the emerging pattern shows that white flight and anxiety over integration is anything but new.
Fucking Frogs! My grandfather didn’t die in the English Civil War so’s half the population of France could come over here and live off the soup!
Written with scurrilous bravura, Richard Bean’s great sweep of a comedy follows a pair of star-crossed lovers amid cutters’ mobs, Papists, Jewish anarchists and radical Islamists across four tempestuous centuries.
Irish and Jewish, that’s the worst mix. You end up with a family of pissed up burglars run by a clever accountant.
England People Very Nice finished on: 9 August 2009
It's just not very good... mememine wrote: Thursday, 5 March 2009 at 02:54 pm (UTC) However much the director bangs on about 'spoofing stereotypes' all he's done is put them on stage. Repeating isn't spoofing. Nothing's turned around or challenged. By simply staging the prejudice he's only passing on the pain and as a white working class East Ender ( and still living here too ) I was sad to see me and mine reduced to five centuries of proto-BNP bootboys.
When a writer can't even get the geography right ( Brick Lane is not in Bethnal Green, no matter how many times Bean says it is ) you can't really trust him as a guide to take you on a journey and his vignettes of Brick Lane today are so barking bonkers he has to hide behind them being 'a cartoon'.
This poorly structured, mean hearted play is using being controversial to distract us from just how simple minded and truly one note it is. Do you remember that old ITV sit-com 'Mind Your Language'? This has all the depth of that and it's a great shame that important themes and an enormous budget have been entrusted to such a poor piece of work.
Antony Taylor points to the historical parallels between the recent London bombings and those a century ago.
The shock of bombings in an urban setting, particularly in the confines of a tube station, produces a stunning force as the London bombings show. The Times summed up the horrified reaction to events in its report of 1 November:
‘It would be difficult to exaggerate the appalling character of the ruin which might have been wrought if either of the explosions had taken full effect, as was probably intended, upon one or more crowded trains. The crash of dynamite in a crowded tunnel, rending and overthrowing all resisting bodies, plunging the dead and dying into utter darkness, and perhaps causing a second train to be hurled against the ruins of the first, cannot be adequately represented by the imagination of ordinary men.’
Dating from 1883, rather than 2005, the events described relate to a premeditated explosion on the London underground. Sometimes attributed to Irish republicans, or incorrectly described as the work of a disgruntled employee, the explosive devices of November 1883 were ignited by anarchists. They paved the way for a number of subsequent bombings in the capital and for further attacks on the tube in 1896. This long-forgotten campaign provides strong parallels with recent concerns about Islamic terrorism in the UK. It set the tone for all subsequent treatments of terrorist activity in Britain, led the government to embrace legislation to exclude suspected bomb-makers from the country, and raised fears about the threats posed to Britain’s traditional civil liberties, both by terrorism and by government itself. In 1905, as in 2005, government stood accused of dismantling the country’s traditional legislative safeguards for asylum seekers and of eroding traditions of tolerance and ‘fair play’.
Curbing terrorism was high on the agenda of many late nineteenth century governments in Europe. Although motivated by secular rather than religious concerns, the anarchist attacks on people and property bear a number of similarities to recent campaigns pursued by Islamic militants. President Carnot of France, King Umberto I of Italy, Empress Elizabeth of Austria, and President McKinley in the US were all celebrity victims of anarchist assassins. For contemporaries anarchism was a fanatical and intolerant creed that bred merciless and steely-eyed enemies of society. Originating in the Tsarist domains of the Russian empire, anarchism was an ideology coloured by totalitarianism. Its many critics saw it as a doctrine of force perverted by its Russian origins. Apparently, tainted by the absence of a habit of democracy in the East it bred mordant revenge fantasies. Knowing only tyranny it thrived on violence and expressed itself as a doctrine of revenge. ‘Banditism from below replies to banditism from above’ wrote the French journal L’Humanite’. As with contemporary depictions of Islamic Terrorism, anarchism was portrayed as an unnatural import carried by the many refugees and exiles that left Russia to seek safety from the Tsarist state in London.
In common with recent bombing and assassination campaigns by Islamic militants, anarchism claimed a mastery of the technology of destruction. Anarchism’s arsenal was cutting edge. After 1864 Alfred Nobel perfected nitro-glycerine, succeeding in stabilising the notoriously volatile liquid in a solid compound for military and civil use. Nobel realised the potential for destruction posed by ‘nitro’ but believed it to be a weapon of such potentially devastating effect, that it would never be used in anger, and might actually help to prevent war. Nitro-glycerine was cheap, easily available, and could be carried in small quantities perfect for bomb manufacture. In the 1880s it became the ’poor man’s artillery’ that could redress the balance against large, well-equipped armies. As one contemporary anarchist newspaper put it: ‘A single wayfarer, with dynamite in his pocket throws the cities of England into greater terror than would a hundred thousand men landing at Dover’. Dynamite became a weapon of indiscriminate and mass slaughter. In 1893 when the French anarchist Emile Henry threw a bomb into the Café Terminus in Paris it produced numerous and indiscriminate casualties in scenes reminiscent of the recent Madrid bombings. Nineteenth-century anarchism established a template for organisations like Al-Quaida in which ‘propaganda’ by deed, and fears of superior (and sometimes nuclear) terrorist weaponry created a climate of fear that fomented a backlash against those wrongly suspected of sympathy with militants.
As in the nineteenth century, ‘moral panics’ about terrorism increasingly dominate sensationalist news media and provide the rationale for secret conferences of world leaders and specialist units dedicated to a ‘War Against Terror’. In the 1900s some saw Britain’s benign tradition of receiving political exiles as making it uniquely vulnerable to European anarchists seeking refuge behind its comparatively open borders. Anarchist atrocities in London, including an attempt to blow up Greenwich Observatory in 1894 and the Siege of Sidney Street in 1911 in which the police and troops shot it out with East European anarchists holed up in an East End tenement, ignited fears that London was a natural magnet and target for anarchists, in a series of panics long predating recent media obsessions with London as ‘Londinistan’.
As also with recent statements about young Moslem men, the ‘alienated’, ‘disaffected’ and ‘un-integrated’ were said to provide a recruiting ground for anarchism. In the nineteenth century such notions often reflected contemporary concerns about the break down of the family. Orphans, those from broken homes and the illegitimate were all believed to be potential anarchists. Celebrated anarchists like Francois-Claudius Ravachol, Johann Most and Emma Goldman were all from unconventional family backgrounds and conformed to these stereotypes. Such ruptured families tended to be a feature of migrant communities. For this reason, the dislocated Jewish migrant families of the East End of London were often depicted as breeding and proliferating anarchism.
True enough, anarchist ideas occasionally found expression amongst Jewish migrants. Some prominent Jewish incomers brought anarchist notions with them from the Tsarist empire where anarchism was embraced as a creed of revenge against a state that fomented anti-semitic purges in the 1880s and 1900s. Never entirely representative of all Jewish opinion, however, the associations between Jewishness and anarchism led to the ‘scape-goating’ of the Jewish community at the time of anarchist bomb atrocities. As with the Moslem community in the twenty-first century, the Jewish community in London found itself the object of much scrutiny and suspicion in the 1880s and 1890s.
The misunderstanding of the Jewish communities of London, and concerns about Britain’s role as a place of exile and haven for continental revolutionaries created a climate in which legislation was considered to exclude dangerous and anarchistic adversaries of society. In 1905 the Anti-aliens Act provided one such response to rising concerns about anarchists in Britain. Overturning centuries of tolerance the Act introduced limitations on incomers. Outraging much liberal opinion at the time, and offending some European neighbours, after the Siege of Sidney Street in 1911 there were further debates about beefing up the act and controlling the circulation of firearms which continued until the eve of the Great War.
Despite the threat posed to traditions of British tolerance by the Aliens Act, it still contained asylum clauses for those suffering from persecution abroad. Nevertheless, for many, it worked against the grain of centuries of British history and tradition. Numerous radicals and liberals spoke out against it with, in contrast to 2005, the infant Labour Party very much to the fore. Under the new act the right to asylum and protection from persecution was no longer a right, it was instead a privilege. On the eve of Labour’s anti-terror bill, the government should pause and reflect on the loss of deeply-ingrained freedoms by its plans for detention without charge, the proscription of extremist groups (however defined) and changes to immigration law. The new legislation could do incalculable damage to Britain’s civil liberties and international standing. Adopted unamended the bill could bring about the consequences Bernard Porter reports of the 1905 Anti-aliens act in his book, The Refugee Question in Mid-Victorian Politics: ‘a liberal age had come to an end: and there was no possibility that it could return’.
Columnist, London Independent Posted: October 11, 2009 07:19 PM The World's First 'Terrorists'
Imagine it. A network of violent radicals is picking off the world's leaders one by one. They have killed the American president, the Russian head of state, the French president, the Austrian head of state, and the Spanish prime minister.
Bomb attacks are ripping through the world's richest cities: explosions devastate Wall Street, the London Underground, a theatre in Barcelona, cafés in Paris, parades in Moscow. The police profile of a typical bomber warns: "He walks to his death with courage and no regrets." There is panic, and governments launch programs of torture and deportation targeted at immigrant communities. Yet still the radicals wash defiantly across the world, killing as they go. They say they have "only one aim, one science: destruction."
It sounds like a feverish novel about al-Qa'ida, set 30 years from now. But it has already happened. It is a story from our past. In the late 19th and early 20th century, anarchist bombers did all this. They were prepared to die for their beliefs. They lived in the same places as today's Islamists -- such as Whitechapel, in east London -- and they struck the same targets, like lower Manhattan on a clear September morning.
In a new documentary -- The Enemy Within, by Joe Bullman -- young Islamists read the words of yesterday's Jewish anarchists, from their writings and trial transcripts. While the societies they dream of building after the bombs are very different, their rage, their alienation, and their tactics are almost identical. The words fit so easily into their mouths that the Islamists say it is "creepy."
Mark Twain said: "History doesn't repeat itself, but it does rhyme." Are there lessons buried in this ripple of rage spreading across a century? For decades, anarchist radicals seemed like an ineradicable force that would bleed Western societies forever. Within a generation, they were gone. So can the anarchists show us what makes young men attack their own societies -- and what makes them stop? Can it tell us what tactics defeat an amorphous underground movement, and what only makes them stronger? From the nitroglycerine of the 19th century, is there a fuse that ends with the jihadists of 2009?
As the sun set on 12 February 1894, the Café Terminus at the Gare Saint-Lazare was full of young Parisians listening to an orchestra when the music stopped abruptly. A fireball consumed everything in sight: the world went black. When the survivors came round, there was a jigsaw of body parts around them, and people on fire, running, screaming. It was the work of a smartly dressed 20-year-old French accountant called Emile Henry. He had placed a bomb in a metal workman's lunchbox and hurled it at the orchestra. This wasn't his first attack: a few months before, he had blown up a police station, killing five people, and returned calmly to his desk, where he finished the ledgers he had been working on.
But it was the first time a private individual had randomly blown up civilians. As the historian Dr. John Merriman, who teaches at Yale University, says: "It was the day that ordinary people became the targets of terrorists." But Emile Henry was not an anarchist from Central Casting. He was an intellectual born into the French bourgeoisie, living in part off handouts from his rich aunt. He was -- by all accounts -- a sensitive person who had spent his life appalled at the cruelty all around him. He claimed his act would save lives in the end: that he was murdering out of compassion.
Henry was living in a Paris of vertiginous inequalities. In a quarter of an hour you could walk from the palatial glamour of the opera house to slums where babies were routinely dying of tuberculosis. The divide ran right though his soul: he had the education of the rich, but he had slumped down into the tubercular slums.
Emile's father, Fortune Henry, had run away from his middle-class family in 1848 at the age of 16 to join the revolution in Paris. When Parisians seized control of their own city in 1871 and ran it as a democratic commune, Fortune manned the barricades and rallied the crowds. But when the French state recaptured Paris -- massacring 25,000 people as it went -- he was condemned to death, and fled to Spain. Emile Henry was born there, and he was raised on tales of how the French state had brutally suppressed freedom. The boy grew to see all governments as evil, especially when the Spanish authorities confiscated the family's belongings to punish their anarchist sympathies. His father was forced to work in filthy factories where he contracted mercury poisoning. He died when his son was 10.
Henry's mother begged for cash from her wealthy relatives, who helped send Henry to the best schools in Paris. He was an exceptionally successful student, and for a time -- as a pale, tall young man, with a reddish beard -- he became an engineer. But, on a meager trainee engineer's salary, he was still stuck in the poorer arrondisements of Paris, where he was stunned by the waste of life all around him. The poor majority had no political voice, and scarcely enough food to live: a quarter of all children died before reaching adulthood.
"I would like simply to disappear, to annihilate myself, in order to escape the perpetual anguish that strangles and breaks heart and soul," he wrote. He concluded that wealthy Paris was dominated by "frauds," and "only the cynics and grovellers can get a place at the banquet ... [The rich have] appropriated everything, robbing the other class not just of the sustenance of the body but also the sustenance of the mind."
Across Europe, the nation-state was asserting its power over ordinary citizens in a deeper and harsher way than ever before, with governments seizing taxes and young men for conscription at an unprecedented rate. In response, there was a growing anarchist movement that simply said that the state was illegitimate, and should be disbanded.
The term "anarchist" had originally been an insult, but, in 1840, a French provincial printer's assistant called Pierre-Joseph Proudhon picked it up and wore it with pride. He said if governments were disbanded, people would organize themselves into peaceful democratic communes that would run their own affairs, without police or laws or taxes. It was the state -- with its apparatus of coercion and violence -- that made people bad. Remove the state, and you would have a natural order at last, based on personal freedom. Law is tyranny; property is theft.
In a society where the emaciated poor were routinely being worked to death, it was an appealing message. As he lay dying because he had been made to work in toxic factories since childhood, a porcelain worker known to history only as "M L" wrote: "Accursed society, you are responsible for my illness. Thoughtless and cynical bourgeois, do you not sense that I can transform myself into someone who can right wrongs, an avenger of the innumerable existences that your society has massacred, an avenger of all those who have revolted and live as outlaws, and those who have been tortured or eliminated? Bourgeois ... I want to take with me at least some of those who are responsible for my death."
To Emile Henry, it seemed persuasive. He took money from his bourgeois aunt -- and wrote cordial letters of thanks -- but cursed the bourgeoisie as "evil." When he was ordered to attend the military lottery, where he could have been conscripted, he went on the run. At lectures across the city, he heard the argument put by anarchists that the only way to put their philosophy into practice was by "the propaganda of the deed." Acts of violence against the state or the populace would show the state's power was illusory and stir a general revolt. Just as most Muslims reject jihadism today, most anarchists rejected violence against civilians, calling it "common murder." But developments in France made Henry more determined to side with the furious fringe of anarchism: striking miners were crushed by troops, and the rich became richer. He wrote: "The entire bourgeoisie lives from the exploitation of the unfortunate, and all of it should pay for its crimes."
He was captured at the scene of the bombing. He said he had one regret: that he didn't kill more "bourgeois." If only he had a bomb big enough, he boasted, he would have blown up the whole of Paris. Only from the rubble could a just society emerge. In a letter to his mother, he said: "You must not believe those who will say that your son is a criminal. The real criminals are those who make life impossible for anyone with a heart, those men who uphold a society in which everyone suffers."
After Henry was executed at the age of 21, a series of revenge bombings staged by anarchists ripped through France. One of the killers, Auguste Vaillant, declared: "We will spare neither women nor children because the women and children we love have not been spared. Are they not innocent victims, these children, who in the faubourgs slowly die of anaemia, because bread is rare at home? Those women who in your workshops suffer exhaustion and are worn out in order to earn 40 cents a day? These old men whom you have turned into machines so that they can produce their entire lives and whom you throw out on to the street when they have been completely depleted? You will add other names to the bloody lists of our dead ... but what you can never destroy is anarchy. Its roots are too deep, born in a poisonous society that is falling apart. It is everywhere, which makes anarchy elusive. It will finish by killing you."
II. All-American Anarchism
Emile Henry was only one member of a scattered freelance army who believed they could end the idea of government itself, and usher in an era of perfect freedom. Their attacks were made possible by the coincidence of two historical developments: the development of anarchist philosophy, and the invention of dynamite. In 1866, the Swedish industrialist Alfred Nobel invented this easy-to-carry, easy-to-make explosive, and it spread through the world's mining and construction industries like a rapidly fizzing fuse. But it took a tiny, malformed German anarchist to see how it could change the world's politics.
Johann Most was a 5ft-tall bookbinder filled with rage. As a child, an operation on his jaw had gone wrong, leaving it painfully jutting forward. His attempts to hide it under a huge red beard only attracted more attention. Most turned his humiliation outwards on to just causes -- at least at first. He too ran away to Paris, and was immediately jailed after the crushing of the Commune, for demanding the vote for everyone. He argued for socialism, to be brought about through parliamentary democracy -- and when he was released from jail he was elected to the German Reichstag on precisely this platform. But Otto von Bismarck launched a purge of all leftists, and Most had to flee again.
The purge crushed Most's belief in gradual reform. He became convinced the system could only be changed by blowing it up -- and suddenly realized that explosives were now lying all over Europe and the US, in sheds controlled by ordinary workers. Dynamite needed no expertise to operate; it could be carried in your pocket; and it could kill. He announced: "It is within the power of dynamite to destroy the capitalist regime just as it had been within the power of gunpowder and the rifle to wipe feudalism from the face of the earth. A girdle of dynamite encircles the world!"
Most traveled from country to country, urging workers to pick up their dynamite and use it against the bosses who forced them to work 12-hour days, seven days a week, for starvation wages. He became the model for Ossipon, the refugee-anarchist Ossipon in Joseph Conrad's novel The Secret Agent, who walks the street with a bomb forever strapped to him, ready to blow himself up the moment the police swoop. In anticipation of Islamism, Ossipon brags that his enemies "depend on life ... whereas I depend on death, which knows no restraint and cannot be attacked. My superiority is evident."
Although it has been consigned to the memory-hole, one of the places where Most found the most recruits was the US. He washed up in the 1880s in a continent where 35,000 American workers died every year in industrial accidents. Whenever they went on strike for better conditions, they were savagely beaten by the police. The richest 2 per cent owned 60 per cent of the wealth, and the politicians and police did their bidding.
One of his most fervent disciples was a hard-drinking cowboy from Utah, never seen without a Stetson and a strut. He was called "Big Bill" Haywood. He spent his childhood moving from one mining town to another, and had his eye slashed out in a mechanical accident when he was nine. By the age of 15, he spent almost all his time hacking at rock underground, where he saw men routinely get crushed or blasted. Writing about one typical town, he explained: "The people of this mining camp breathed copper, ate copper, wore copper, and were thoroughly saturated with copper ... Many of the miners were suffering from rankling copper sores, caused by the poisonous water. Human life was the cheapest by-product of this great copper camp."
Big Bill turned to anarchism after witnessing systematic state violence against ordinary people. When he organized a strike, US soldiers rounded up 1,000 miners at random and placed them in a barbed-wire bull-pen. They were detained there for seven months. As the police officer in charge declared, "To hell with the Constitution!" They called it the "American Bastille."
Class war didn't seem like a metaphor to him: it was the reality of everyday life. The industrialist Jay Gould openly bragged: "I can hire one half of the working class to kill the other half." So Haywood -- some historians believe -- blew up the governor of Idaho, Frank Steunenberg, in 1907, and his trial was the biggest news story of the year. His lawyer, the legendary Clarence Darrow, urged the jury to side not with "the spiders of Wall Street" but with "the men who toil with their hands ... through our mills and factories, and deep underneath the earth. I am here to say that in a great cause these labor organizations have stood for the weak, they have stood for every humane law that was ever placed on the statute books. I don't care how many wrongs they have committed -- I don't care how many crimes -- I just know their cause is just."
It is a sign of how widespread the sympathy for anarchists was that Haywood was acquitted, and became an American folk hero. He eventually had to flee the US during the First World War when he urged people to resist the draft, and was sentenced to 20 years in jail. He fled to the Soviet Union, found it to be "hell," and drank himself to death.
This is only one small slice of a larger story unfolding in every developed country. Anarchist attacks on politicians were remarkably successful, starting when three young men hurled bombs into a carriage carrying Tsar Alexander II in 1881, killing him and several members of the crowd. Anarchists claimed their heftiest scalp when, in 1901, a young militant called Frank Czolgosz waited in line to shake US President McKinley's hand in Buffalo -- and stabbed him hard in the gut. (This act gave us President Theodore Roosevelt, one of the most aggressively imperialist and racist presidents in US history). But gradually the anarchist fervor boiled down further and further into attacks on ordinary civilians -- which is why they still echo into our world today.
III. "It was written 100 years ago, but it is happening today"
Does this anarchism bear any relationship to the jihadists who bomb the very same targets today? When the film-maker Joe Bullman got young British Muslims with some sympathy for the 7/7 bombers to read the words of anarchists put on trial at the Old Bailey a century ago, they showed an exhilarated recognition. Adam Munevar Khan says: "It was written 100 years ago, but it is happening today -- to the Muslims." Mohammed Rahmen says: "Anarchism has been represented to be a doctrine of insanity and murder -- its principles, its ideals, they've been unmentioned, lied about. That really penetrated my way of thinking. That's exactly how Islam is."
The Islamists read the anarchist lines to camera with feeling. One of them says: "We are met by the cry of assassins, dynamiters, fiends -- but let's see who utters these cries. It's the same people who daily massacre more people than the anarchists of all countries have ever killed." It could be Mohammad Sidique Khan, the 7/7 murderer, announcing: "Your democratically elected governments continuously perpetuate atrocities against my people all over the world. And your support of them makes you directly responsible, just as I am directly responsible for protecting and avenging my Muslim brothers and sisters. Until we feel security, you will be our targets. And until you stop the bombing, gassing, imprisonment and torture of my people, we will not stop this fight."
Yet it's easier, at first glance, to see the differences between the two ideologies. Anarchists loathed religion, seeing it as another form of tyranny to be destroyed; Islamists want their severe interpretation of religion to be obeyed by everyone. Anarchists were some of the first to fight for feminism and sexual freedom; Islamists want to imprison women in burqas and in their homes, and to kill gays. Anarchists demanded absolute free speech; Islamists chant "death to free speech". Anarchists loathed racism; Islamists are frequently racist against Jews. Anarchists wanted a society of absolute freedom; Islamists want a society of absolute obedience.
But neither had a very clear picture of what the world would look like after the smoke from their bombs had cleared. Their visions of the future were vague: both no-state and the caliphate were hazy hope-dreams. Below and beneath them, there were deep structural similarities.
Both groups believed their violence was justified by the larger illegitimate state violence they witnessed as young men. For the anarchists, it was the crushing of the Paris Commune and the executions of innocent anarchists after the Haymarket bomb of 1886 in Chicago; for the Islamists it is the assaults on the Palestinians, on Afghanistan, and on Iraq. However warped, they believe they are killing out of compassion for the victims of these crimes. The anarchist Emma Goldman wrote: "To those who say hate does not give birth to love, I reply that it is love, human love, that often engenders hate."
They justified their attacks to themselves by claiming they were trying to give the wealthy, or the West, a taste of how "their people" felt. Yet in both movements, intriguingly, it was largely middle class intellectuals who turned to violence. Both Emile Henry and Mohammed Atta -- the leader of the 9/11 hijackings -- were engineers who found in mathematics a sense of purity and order and rationality that soothed them, and seemed like a refuge from a chaotic world. The leading anarchists in Europe -- Mikhail Bakunin and Peter Kropotkin -- were both Russian noblemen, just as Osama bin Laden is the son of a Saudi billionaire. (Bakunin and Kropotkin, however, strongly opposed targeting civilians.) They were people who chose to renounce their riches and side with the embattled tribe "beneath" them, and claimed to be fighting for its survival.
Both waves of violence were reactions to tectonic shifts in how power worked in the world. Anarchist attacks were a violent reaction to the rise of the nation-state; Islamist attacks within the West are to a significant degree a violent kick-back against Western states asserting their power abroad. These reactions were only made possible by new networks of communication. For the anarchists, the revolution in shipping and telegrams made movement across continents suddenly faster and freer than ever: a genuinely international network moving rapidly between countries could develop for the first time. For Islamists, the Internet made the movement of ideas and plans instantaneous: a global movement simultaneously operating in Tora Bora and Manhattan was suddenly possible.
And for this reason, both movements produced vicious backlashes against immigrants that went far beyond the people who actually carried out the attacks. In Bullman's film, he gets contemporary asylum-bashing pundits like Gary Bushell and Nick Ferrari to read the rage directed at Jews in Britain after a small number of Jewish immigrants became anarchists and launched bombings. Ferrari reads a Daily Mail column from 1911 that barks: "There are hundreds of anarchists in Whitechapel ... but there's no way of learning anything about them. In this great foreign city east of Aldgate the English policeman is an uncomprehending foreigner ... We can't continue to let the scum of Europe [come here]."
And this perhaps points to the most important echo of all. When governments reacted to these attacks, at first they charged angrily down a path that made anarchism worse -- and guaranteed more of their citizens would die.
IV. Why did the attacks stop?
The postscript to anarchist bombings in almost every country was a bonfire of civil liberties. After Wall Street was blasted with a massive bomb in 16 September 1920, killing 38 people including a 16-year-old newspaper delivery boy, the US government launched a huge indiscriminate program of deportations of "radicals" -- often peaceful left-wingers. It was masterminded by a young man called J. Edgar Hoover, who learned then the tactics of indiscriminate smearing he was to use throughout the Cold War. For the first time in the country's history, Congress declared an idea to be "un-American," and said anybody preaching anarchism -- however peacefully -- would be held responsible for "aiding" the attacks. There was a raft of convictions of people who had done nothing except discuss anarchism and suggest there was some justice in its analysis.
There was a smattering of small countervailing voices in America, but in the initial hysteria, they were drowned out. The federal judge George W. Anderson said the Justice Department was engaging in "utterly illegal acts, committed by those charged with the highest duty of enforcing the laws." The US Attorney Francis Fisher Kane resigned, warning that "the policy of raids against large numbers of individuals is generally unwise and very apt to result in injustice."
A presidential commission warned that this crackdown only made the anarchist warnings about a police state seem prescient. To the young men teetering on an act of violence, torture and police brutality made the anarchists sound right -- and violent resistance necessary. The commission said the structural causes of the violence had to be dealt with instead, explaining: "The crux of the question is -- have the workers received their share of the enormous increase in wealth which has taken place in this country? The answer is emphatically -- no ... Throughout history where a people or a group has been arbitrarily denied rights, reaction has been inevitable. Violence is a natural form of protest against injustice."
But nobody wanted to hear these arguments. The public and the politicians wanted vengeance. Some governments, like France's, exploited the attacks to shut down all left-wing protest. Hoover employed a raft of agents to find a bogus "Russian connection" to the Wall Street bombing, to justify aggression against the Soviet Union.
Eventually, the American people returned to their senses, and chose a president who saw the threat in a cooler way. President Warren Harding said: "It is quite true that there are enemies of the government within our borders. However, I believe their number has been greatly magnified."
But the countries that had the harshest crackdowns ended up with the largest anarchist movements of all, while those that reacted calmly and kept their freedoms open saw the movements implode much faster. Professor John Merriman -- whose book The Dynamite Club is one of the best accounts of the anarchist attacks -- explains: "After the Italian king Umberto I was assassinated by the anarchist Gaetano Bresci, the Italian state response was deliberately restrained and minor. This undercut the movement. By contrast, Spain reacted at the same time with a programme of brutal repression and torture. They ended up with the biggest anarchist movement in Europe. Then later, when they stopped torturing people, the anarchist attacks stopped. I'm not an expert on contemporary terrorism, but the lesson for us seems pretty clear."
From the 1920s on, the anarchist attacks began to dwindle, and by the late 1930s they were over. Why? What happened? Nobody is entirely sure -- but most historians suggest a few factors. After the initial wave of state repression, civil liberties slowly advanced -- undermining the anarchist claims. The indiscriminate attacks on ordinary civilians discredited anarchism in the eyes of the wider public: after a young man blew himself up in Greenwich Park in 1892, his coffin was stoned and attacked by working class people in the East End. The anarchists' own cruelty and excess slowly deprived them of recruits.
But, just as importantly, many of the anarchist grievances were addressed by steady reforms. Trade unions were finally legalized, and many of their demands were achieved one by one: an eight-hour working day, greater safety protections, compensation for the injured. Work was no longer so barbaric -- so the violent rejection of it faded away. The changes were nowhere near as radical as those demanded by the anarchists, but it stripped them of followers step-by-step.
Could the same be done with Islamism? The lesson from the death of violent anarchism is that the solution lies beyond blanket violent repression of them or its polar opposite, capitulation to their demands. The answer is gradual reform that ends some -- but not all -- of the sources of their rage. Clearly, many of Islamists' "grievances" should be left unaddressed: we must never restrict the rights of women or gay people or end the freedom to discuss religion openly, as they demand. But there is plenty we can do.
When the huge violence directed at workers and the poor stopped, violent anarchist attacks stopped. An end to the extensive violence directed towards many Muslims could have a similar effect. It would require significant changes here at home. We would have to kick our addiction to oil, so we will no longer be drawn into hellish oil-grabs into Muslim countries, or into holding hands with murderous tyrannies like the House of Saud. We will have unequivocally to renounce torture (even when it is practised by "allies" such as the Egyptian dictatorship), and press for peace for the Palestinians instead of arming and funding the assault on them. This will never be enough for the jihadists, of course -- but if we do it, they will find their base of furious young men dissolving beneath their feet.
The ghosts of Emile Henry and Johann Most and Big Bill Haywood are standing before us, with their sticks of dynamite slowly fizzing. Are we going to make the same mistake that our governments did when dealing with them -- or, after a century, have we learned how to put out the fire this time?
Group: J7 Forum Team
Member No.: 16
Joined: 19-January 06
"The Enemy Within" was a bit of a mixed bag.
It did mention the Walsall Anarchists near the end, and that it was a fabricated plot to make the public hostile towards anarchists, but only briefly and it was noticeable that this was the one point that they didn't ask the contemporary Muslims to comment on whether they thought there might be a parallel today.
A bit like the Radio 1 Newsbeat thing, it was ominous when we discovered that one of the "young British Muslims" was none other than Omer Butt. They did acknowledge that he was Hassan Butt's brother and detailed Hassan's history, but didn't mention any of Omer's previous headline making experiences (the "headscarf dentist who drove a car at a policewoman").
The basic thesis was "blowback".
I think the history was questionable. It suggested the anarchists were eliminated as a threat because of concessions to the working class made by the reforming Liberal government from 1906, together with smart surveillance by MI5. Whilst the anarchists may have lost support, Paul Foot has documented the period 1911-1914 as "The Great Unrest" in which the grievances of the working class remained largely unaddressed. It was the First World War that effectively subdued the labour unrest, rather than the reforms.
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