Notes taken from “The Proud Tower” by Barbara Tuchman
In the late nineteenth century a wave of bombings and assassinations swept the civilized world. By the time of The Great War several heads of state had been taken by assassins devoted to the idea of bringing about a world without government, by violently removing it. The assassinations at highest levels of government included:
* Russian Czar, Alexander II (1881)
* President of France (1894)
* Premier of Spain (1897)
* Empress of Austria (1898)
* King of Italy (1900)
* President of the United States (1901)
* Governor General of Moscow (1905)
* Premier of Spain, again (1912)
These were not isolated historical events, but were part of a much larger body of violence that had been perpetrated by what one historian referred to as “a daydream of desperate romantics.” Their dream was a utopian state “without government, without law, without ownership of property, in which, corrupt institutions having been swept away, man would be free to be good as God intended him.”
Today we know them as the “Anarchists,” a label first self-proclaimed by the French propagandist of the stateless society, Pierre Proudhon. The Anarchists had their leaders all across the nations. Some of these men were theorists, others were terrorists. Together they represented “The Idea and the Deed”.
The unrest and violence that swept the world in the form of “The Idea and the Deed” had arisen from the tensions between two divisions of society: the world of privilege and the world of protest. Having begun with the French Revolution, these waves of revolt were not finished reverberating through the kingdoms dynasties and empires of the modern world.
From theorists to terrorists, the men of the Idea included:
* Peter Kropotkin – an aristocratic Russian Prince who was an esteemed international intellectual. Bernard Shaw said of him that “he was amiable to the point of saintliness and with his full beard and lovable expression might have been a shepherd from the Delectable Mountains.” Prince Kopotkin was one of the world’s leading advocates of the Propaganda of the Deed, saying “a single deed is better propaganda than a thousand pamphlets.”
* Pierre Proudhon of France – coined the word anarchy, and was a father of the idea, privately using violent rhetoric, but later publicly renouncing assassinations and bombings. “Property is theft” he preached. “Whoever lays his hand on me to govern me is a usurper and a tyrant; I declare him to be my enemy … Government of man by man is slavery” and its laws are “cobwebs for the rich and chains of steel for the poor.” The “highest perfection” for free society is no government, to which Proudhon was the first to give the name, “An-archy.”
* Michael Bakunin of Russia – preached the coming of an organic revolt and overthrow. He competed with Marx over control of the working class movement. He disagreed with Marx that the revolution would have to come from an industrialized proletariat, arguing that organic revolution could explode in any one of the more economically backward countries, and having learned from Czar Nicholas I of Russia that violence was necessary, he intended to spark just such an explosion.
* Narodniki –
During this time, it was not only heads of state who were killed; many others – in England, France, Spain, Italy, Germany, Russia, and America – would fall victim to “The Deed”:
* In Chicago on May 4, 1886 a bomb was “hurled into the midst of an armed police force who were about to break up a strikers’ meeting in Haymarket Square.” The bomb was retaliation against the events that had occurred at another strike the day before. Illustrations of the events of May 3 show what one of the factory managers described as a police force of 200 officers firing “on fleeing workmen and women”, a scene that “resembled a promiscuous bush-hunt.” Five men were caught and sentenced to death for the Haymarket bombing. Louis Lingg, who had made the bomb, blew himself up with a capsule of fulminate mercury the night before his execution. On the wall in his cell he had written in his own blood, “Long live anarchy!” The others were later pardoned by Governor Altgeld, who unveiled deep corruption in the march to trial and conviction, further shaking faith in public institutions.
* In Clichy France on May Day, 1891 several mounted police charged a workers’ demonstration led by “les anarchos” who were carrying revolutionary slogans. The anarchists, calling for the murder of the police, were subsequently dragged to the police station and beaten. At their trial the prosecuting attorney called for the death penalty – even though the three men had not killed anyone. They were sentenced to a few years prison each. This set off a chain of dynamite that included the judge’s home and the prosecuting attorney’ home. The bomber’s name was Ravachol, who later admitted to all sorts of murders and robberies and bombings (including the Clichy bombings) during a two-year reign of dynamite, daggers, gunshots and terror in France. Terror, indeed. During the trial, everyone fully expected the Palais de Justice to be blown up. “It was surrounded by troops, every entrance guarded, and jurors, judges and counsel heavily escorted by police.” Ravochol said what he had done was for the sake of the “anarchist idea” and added, “I know I shall be avenged.” Sentenced to death in 1892, he went to the guillotine crying “Vive l’anarchie!” and became a popular anarchist martyr.
* In Homestead Pennsylvania in 1892 the steelworkers were protesting Andrew Carnegie’s Steel Company which had just cut wages in a deliberate show of force to the union – because they could. In expectation of a battle, the Carnegie Steel Company erected a military style blockade topped with barbed wire. Carnegie decided to spend that summer salmon fishing in Scotland, leaving matters to his manager, Henry Clay Frick. The barbed wire did not stop Alexander Berkman from forging a business card and making his way into Frick’s office and shooting him. Frick lived. Berkman tried to blow himself up at the police station (as Lingg had done), using two caps of Mercury found in his mouth, but he failed. He was sentenced to 16 years.
* In Spain the dynamite campaign was much more fierce, and deadly. The cycle began in January, 1892. An agrarian revolt broke out. 400 men marched on the village of Jerez de la Frontera in Andalusia to rescue five comrades sentenced to life in prison, in chains, for complicity in a labor dispute ten years earlier. The military stopped the uprising, publicly executing four of the leaders by tying a scarf around their necks and twisting it with a wooden handle. One of those leaders was an anarchist named Pallas who had thrown a bomb at the general, killing his horse and wounding several officers. In response to these executions, anarchists bombed a theater, killing 22 and wounding 50. The police arrested thousands – any who were suspected to be connected to any group of social discontent – and tortured them until they found Santiago Salvador, who admitted to bombing the theater in revenge for Pallas. Several bombings followed. The government countered with more executions.
* During a miner’s strike France, five police officers were killed in an explosion in November of 1892. The city was absolutely seized with fear. Commerce stopped. People were scared to go to church. This was a time of disillusionment, during the infamous Panama scandal in which over 100 officials of government were uncovered in corruption. “As the prestige of the State sank, Anarchism flourished.” In December a bomb went off in parliament. The bomber, named Vaillant, was labeled in the press as one of the “men of blood, born out of the mud of Panama.” Vaillant, whose bomb of nails only wounded, was sentenced to death in 1894, shouting “Death to bourgeois society! Long live Anarchy”. The days that followed were rocked with explosions. The first bomb went off in a peaceful cafe full of anonymous citizens. One person was killed and 20 wounded. The bomber of the cafe turned out to be the same person who bombed the police station. His name was Emile Henry, for whom “there are no innocent bourgeois.” while he was on trial the city suffered a whole series of bombings. While in prison, Emile Henry wrote his manifesto, echoing the teachings of Proudhon, Kropotkin and other propagandist leaders of the movement. Condemned to death, he went to the guillotine shouting “Vive la revolution! Vive l’anarchi!”
* A month later, on June 24, 1894, the President of France, Sadi Carnot, was assassinated by a young man with a dagger in a rolled up newspaper. The next day his widow received a picture of Ravachol inscribed, “He is avenged.” The assassin’s name was Santo Caserio. He described the act as a deliberate “propaganda of the deed.” He was 21 years old and had spent the last 3 years handing out propaganda pamphlets.
* In June 1896 a bomb was thrown into a religious procession as it was entering the church door led by the Bishop and the Commanding General of Barcelona during the festival of Corpus Christi in Spain. Eleven were killed and forty wounded. The government, led by its Premier, Antonio Canovas del Castillo, arrested 400 of its political enemies from all factions. Trials took place in secret. Letters that escaped spoke of torture. Four were executed and seventy-six were sentenced to prison terms, most to the penal colony of Rio de Oro, the Spanish Devil’s Island. An assassin named Michael Angiollio shot Canovas with a revolver while he was vacationing at a spa. Canovas’ wife struck the man in the face screaming, “Murderer! Assassin!” The man, an Italian journalist replied, “I am not an assassin. I am the Avenger of my Anarchist comrades. I have nothing to do with you, Madame.” Despite attempts to justify himself he was silenced during his trial. He maintained “an unbroken sangfroid” at his execution, refusing religious rites.
* On September 10, 1898 the Empress of Austria, Elizabeth, wife of Franz Joseph, was stabbed to death by Luigi Lucheni. There was no reason for it. It was not in retaliation or revenge. The murderer, a frequenter of Italian Anarchist meetings, simply wanted his name in the papers. Asked why he had killed the Empress he stated, “As part of the war on the rich and the great … it will be Humbert’s turn next.” There was no death penalty in Geneva where the murder occurred. Luigi was sentenced to life in prison from which he wrote many letters, at one point stating that “never in my life have I felt so contented as now. … I have made known to the world that the hour is not far distant when a new sun will shine upon all men alike.”
* In October of 1898 an assassin was found with two bombs intended for the Kaiser, Wilhelm II. Like the assassins of the President of France, the Premier of Spain, and the Empress of Austria, this would-be assassin was an Italian, just as the man who had attempted to kill King Humbert with a dagger a year before in Italy.
* In 1899 Tuscany was put under martial law following bread riots in Italy. Cries that the revolution had finally erupted, the government dispatched half an army corps to Milan to regain control, at least on the surface. On July 29, 1900, King Humbert was shot four times by Gaetano Bresci, whose name had been chosen by lots by a cabal of conspirators of the deed. With no death penalty in Italy, Bresci was sentenced to life in prison, the first seven years to be in solitary confinement. He killed himself after just a few months.
* The assassination of President McKinley in 1901 was carried out by a man who was suspect in the Anarchist underground. Czolgosz had expressed to Anarchist colleagues that he was “troubled by the conduct of the American Army, which, after liberating the Philippines from Spain, was now engaged in war upon the Filipinos. ‘It does not harmonize with the teaching in our public schools about our flag.'” This concern with the flag alerted some to suspect Czolgosz of being an agent provocateur, which turned out to be untrue. “I killed President McKinley,” he wrote in his confession, “because I done my duty,” later adding, “because he was an enemy of the good working people.” Perhaps the least sophisticated and significant men of the Idea and the Deed had committed the most significant act of them all. “McKinley was going around the country shouting prosperity when there was no prosperity for the poor man. … I don’t believe we should have any rulers. It is right to kill them.” Theodore Roosevelt called for the deportation of all known Anarchists in the country and in 1903 the Immigration Act was amended to exclude persons disbelieving in or “teaching disbelief in or opposition to all organized government.”
* In 1887, the same year the Haymarket Anarchists were hanged, five students from St. Petersburg were also hanged in Russia for the attempted assassination of Alexander III by bomb. One of the brothers of these men swore revenge for their hanging. His name was Vladimir Ilyich, which he later changed to Lenin.
* In the years of 1901-1903 the Terror Brigade of the Socialist-Revolutionaries assassinated the Minister of Education, the Minister of the Interior (the leader of the Secret Police), and a Governor who had ended a miners strike with particular brutality. In 1904 a second Minister of Interior, Wenzel von Plehve, the most hated autocrat in Russia, who had said “we must drown the revolution in Jewish blood,” was also killed. Plehve had been waging a reign of terror of his own, killing, beating, burning and plundering of homes and shops, and desecrating synagogues.
* Revolutionary groups of all sorts had been calling for a new constitution in Russia but the new Czar, Nicholas II dismissed them all when he rose to power in 1898. A few years later, in response to “Bloody Sunday” (Dec 1904) in which strikers were gunned down outside the Winter Palace in St. Petersburg, a young revolutionary named Kaliaev killed the Governor General of Moscow with a bomb in April of 1905. The Anarchists really wanted to bomb another Czar (they had done so in 1881) but the Governor General was the best they could do at this time. Kaliaev was caught and executed. To his judges Kaliaev said, “We are two warring camps, … two worlds in furious collision. You, the representatives of capital and oppression; I, one of the avengers of the people. … What does all of this mean? It is the judgment of history upon you.” He said that he hoped the executioners would have the courage to carry out his death in the open, publicly, saying to the judge: “Learn to look the advancing revolution straight in the eye.”
Six months later the revolution finally came. “Neither organized nor led by the Socialist-Revolutionaries, Social-Democrats, or Anarchists, it was the spontaneous revolution Bakunin had believed in and did not live to see.” The idea of Proudhon had finally arrived in the Russian Revolution of 1905. The Terror Brigade in Russia would carry several more murders in the years that followed. In 1911, the Premier of Russia was was assassinated. It is unclear if the assassins were revolutionaries or the Russian police themselves.
The events shook the leaders of the world from country to country. “So serious was the problem that in the Italian government convened an international conference in Rome in November, 1898, to try to work out a solution. Secret sessions lasted for a month.” The world was on edge and finally, in 1914 an assassin’s bullet in Sarajevo would precipitate a world wide cataclysm and catastrophe, changing the world forever.
Excerpt from Emile Henry’s manifesto, written in prison:
“Scientific studies gradually made me aware of the play of natural forces in the universe. I became materialist and atheist; I came to realize that modern science discards the hypothesis of God, of which it has no need. In the same way, religious and authoritarian morality, which are based on false assumptions, should be allowed to disappear.
What then, I asked myself, was the new morality in harmony with the laws of nature that might regenerate the old world and give birth to a happy humanity?
“It was at this moment that I came into contact with a group of anarchist comrades whom I consider, even today, among the best I have ever known. The character of these men immediately captivated me. I discerned in them a great sincerity, a total frankness, a searching distrust of all prejudices, and I wanted to understand the idea that produced men so different from anyone I had encountered up to that point.
“The idea – as soon as I embraced it – found in my mind a soil completely prepared by observation and personal reflection to receive it. It merely gave precision to what already existed there in vague and wavering form. In my turn I became an anarchist.”
– Emile Henry April, 1894