Anarchism and violence

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Anarchism and violence have become closely connected in popular thought, in part because of a concept of "propaganda of the deed". Propaganda of the deed, or attentát, was espoused by a number of leading anarchists in the late nineteenth century, and was associated with a number of incidents of violence. Anarchist thought, however, is quite diverse on the question of violence. Some anarchists have opposed coercion, while others have supported it, particularly in the form of violent revolution on the path to anarchy or utopia.[1] Anarchism includes a school of thought which rejects all violence (anarcho-pacifism). Many anarchists regard the state to be at the definitional center of structural violence: directly or indirectly preventing people from meeting their basic needs, calling for violence as self-defense.[2] Perhaps the first anarchist periodical was named The Peaceful Revolutionist, a strain of anarchism has followed Tolstoy's pacifism, and anarchists have often identified violence as a tool of oppression, particularly state oppression.


Propaganda of the deed

Late in the 19th century, anarchist labor unions began to use the tactic of general strike. This was often met with violence and some of the strikes even resulted in massacres.

In this climate, some anarchists began to advocate and practice terrorism or assassination, which they referred to as propaganda of the deed. United States President William McKinley, among others, was assassinated by Leon Czolgosz, a man who identified as an anarchist and claimed he had been influenced by the writings of Emma Goldman, among others. Czolgosz' actions were widely condemned by other anarchists, but the media widely characterized Czolgosz as a typical anarchist, and Goldman spoke sympathetically of him although she herself was criticized for doing so.

Public perception

Depictions in the press and popular fiction helped create a lasting public impression that anarchists are violent terrorists. This perception was enhanced by events such as the Haymarket Riot, where anarchists were blamed for throwing a bomb at police who came to break up a public meeting in Chicago. The writer J. R. R. Tolkien, in a letter to his son, briefly described anarchy as "philosophically understood, meaning abolition of control not whiskered men with bombs."[3]

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