The Origins of Error

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by Dan Clore

An article on MSNBC, "The bombs of August" (http://www.msnbc.com/news/189762.asp) by James O. Goldsborough, which appeared on Aug. 21, 1998, contains an interesting account of "The Origins of Terror".

Here, describing the origins of terrorism, which allegedly lead to the terrorist bombings of Islamic Fundamentalists, Goldsborough tells us that: "The origins of modern terrorism go back to the anarchist movement of the last century, which was inspired by the Revolution of 1848 and Karl Marx's Communist Manifesto. In a period of three decades starting in 1880, anarchists killed seven national leaders, including a Russian czar, an American president, two Spanish premiers, a French president, an Italian king and an Austrian empress."

Goldsborough's knowledge of history leaves something to be desired. The anarchist movement's first major theoretical work, Proudhon's _What is Property?_, appeard in 1840, eight years before the events which Goldsborough claims "inspired" the movement. Further, anarchist participation in the Revolutions of 1848 was minimal, and Marx, far from being a leader in the anarchist movement, headed the state socialist factions of the revolutionary movement that constituted the main rival to anarchism. The anarchist Bakunin predicted that Marx's proposals would lead to creation of a "Red bureaucracy", and he declaimed that: "No state, however democratic," Bakunin wrote, "not even the reddest republic -- can ever give the people what they really want, i.e., the free self-organization and administration of their own affairs from the bottom upward, without any interference or violence from above, because every state, even the pseudo-People's State concocted by Mr. Marx, is in essence only a machine ruling the masses from above, from a privileged minority of conceited intellectuals, who imagine that they know what the people need and want better than do the people themselves...." and further that: "the people will feel no better if the stick with which they are being beaten is labeled `the people's stick' " -- the Newspeak employed by Lenin and Stalin was foreseen so early.

Goldborough is no more accurate in his account of anarchist assassinations. The Russian Czar he refers to, Alexander II, was murdered by a state-socialist group known as the People's Will (Narodnaya Volya), which had long since split with the Russian anarchist group known as the Black Partition (Chernya Peredel). President McKinley was assassinated by Leon Czolgosz, who did indeed profess anarchism -- but had been excluded from every anarchist group he had attempted to join and had been denounced in the anarchist press as an _agent provocateur_. Similarly, the assassins of French President Sadi Carnot, Spanish Prime Minister Antonio Canovas, and Empress Elizabeth of Austria all appear to have been obsessive fanatics unconnected with any anarchist organizations. These actions were not typical of the broader anarchist movement, and were widely condemned by anarchist leaders.

Historical inaccuracy is not the only failing of Goldsborough's piece. The entire article is pervaded by untenable assumptions about terrorism: in sheer point of fact, Goldsborough has accepted as presupposition a Newspeak definition of the word. As Noam Chomsky has explained: "'terrorism' is terrorism _that is perpetrated by official enemies_; terrorism that we or our clients conduct does not fall under the concept." This is precisely the definition that Goldsborough follows.

Examples are not difficult to find in the anarchist history that Goldsborough remains so blissfully unaware of. When Czar Alexander II was assassinated by the non-anarchist People's Will, that was _terrorism_. When the Russian government responded by cracking down on all socialists and anarchists, imprisoning, exiling, and killing thousands who had no involvement with the assassination, that was _not terrorism_. When police fired at random into crowds of workers demonstrating in favor of an eight-hour work day in Chicago's Haymarket, that was _not terrorism_. When, at another demonstration the next day, someone (possibly an _agent provocateur_) threw a bomb at police who had arrived to break up the peaceful protest, that was _terrorism_. When the police then rounded up eight anarchist leaders, some of whom were not even present at the event and none of whom were accused of throwing the bomb in question, and tried them for murder, that was _not terrorism_. When a Mexican named Ortiz committed burglaries in the name of anarchism in France, that was _terrorism_. When the French government put nineteen prominent anarchist intellectuals, none of whom were involved in the robberies, on trial along with him, that was _not terrorism_. When Henry Clay Frick had striking workers shot by Pinkerton detectives, that was _not terrorism_. When Alexander Berkman in turn attempted to shoot Henry Clay Frick, that was _terrorism_. In short, when the State has acted against anarchists, whether through censorship, deportation, assassination, or mass murder, that is _not terrorism_, because only the Official Enemy can commit that heinous act.

Neither anarchists nor any other group had any need to invent terrorism. That had been invented long before the nineteenth century; in fact, it had been invented millennia before, the shadow of its inseparable twin: the State.

Dan Clore

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