Issues in Anarchism - Ends and Means - Violence and Non-violence

Violence and Non-violence

Anarchists have often been portrayed as dangerous and violent, due mainly to a number of high-profile violent acts including riots, assassinations, and insurrections involving anarchists. The use of terrorism and assassination, however, is condemned by most anarchist ideology, though there remains no consensus on the legitimacy or utility 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.

Some anarchists share Leo Tolstoy's Christian anarchist belief in nonviolence. These anarcho-pacifists advocate nonviolent resistance as the only method of achieving a truly anarchist revolution. They often see violence as the basis of government and coercion and argue that, as such, violence is illegitimate, no matter who is the target. Some of Proudhon's French followers even saw strike action as coercive and refused to take part in such traditional socialist tactics.

Other anarchists advocate Marshall Rosenberg's Nonviolent Communication that relates to peoples fundamental needs and feelings using strategies of requests, observations and empathy yet providing for the use of protective force while rejecting pacifism as a compromising strategy of the left that just perpetuates violence.

Other anarchists, such as Mikhail Bakunin and Errico Malatesta saw violence as a necessary and sometimes desirable force. Malatesta took the view that it is "necessary to destroy with violence, since one cannot do otherwise, the violence which denies to the workers" (Umanità Nova, number 125, September 6, 1921).

Between 1894 and 1901, individual anarchists assassinated numerous heads of state, including:

  • French President Sadi Carnot (1894);
  • Empress consort Elisabeth of Austria (1898);
  • King Umberto I of Italy (1900); and
  • United States President William McKinley (1901).

Such "propaganda of the deed" was not popular among anarchists, and many in the movement condemned the tactic. For example, McKinley's assassin, Leon Czolgosz, claimed to be a disciple of Emma Goldman, but she disavowed any association with him.

Goldman included in her definition of anarchism the observation that all governments rest on violence, and this is one of the many reasons they should be opposed. Goldman herself didn't oppose tactics like assassination until she went to Russia, where she witnessed the violence of the Russian state and the Red Army. From then on she condemned the use of terrorism, especially by the state, and advocated violence only as a means of self-defense.

Depictions in the press and popular fiction (for example, a malevolent bomb-throwing anarchist in Joseph Conrad's The Secret Agent) 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.

More recently, anarchists have been involved in protests against World Trade Organization (WTO) and International Monetary Fund (IMF) meetings across the globe, which the media has described as violent or riots. Traditionally, May Day in London has also been a day of marching, but in recent years the Metropolitan Police have warned that a "hardcore of anarchists" are intent on causing violence. Anarchists often respond that it is the police who initiate violence at these demonstrations, with anarchists who are otherwise peaceful sometimes forced to defend themselves. The anarchists involved in such protests often formed black blocs at these protests and some engaged in property destruction, vandalism, or in violent conflicts with police, though others stuck to non-violent principles.

Those participating in black blocs distinguish between "violence" and "property destruction": they claim that violence is when a person inflicts harm to another person, while property destruction or property damage is not violence, although it can have indirect harm such as financial harm. Most anarchists do not consider the destruction of property to be violent, as do most activists who believe in non-violence.

Read more about this topic:  Issues In Anarchism, Ends and Means

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