The International Campaign Against Anarchist Terrorism, 1880-1930s (Richard Bach Jensen)

    Blah blah blah anarchist terrorism blah blah blah state control blah blah blah…

The International Campaign Against Anarchist Terrorism, 1880-1930s
Richard Bach Jensen
Terrorism and Political Violence, Vol.21, No.1 January 2009


This essay presents a short overview of the “classic” era of anarchist terrorism between 1880 and World War I, while concentrating on an analysis of the little-known efforts by diplomats, politicians, and the police to control and repress anarchist terrorism. These efforts included the Rome Anti-Anarchist Conference of 1898 and the St. Petersburg Protocol of 1904. Before World War I, a combination of economic, social, and political factors, combined with a systematic government effort to redefine and downplay the nature and importance of anarchist terrorism provides the best explanation for why this form of violence declined in certain countries but not in others. Careful police intelligence work and international police cooperation, together with a more rigorously professional system of protection for monarchs and heads of state, could aid in reducing the problem of anarchist terrorism, but heavy-handed repression only worsened it. The essay concludes with a sketch of anarchist terrorism after 1914 and a brief comparison between present-day terrorism and its nineteenth-century predecessor.

David C. Rapoport has chosen to label the first era of modern terrorism as the “anarchist wave,” a persuasive designation.1 This article will examine the specifically anarchist qualities of the first wave, presenting a short overview of its archetypical era between 1880 and World War I, concentrate on analyzing the little-known efforts to control anarchist terrorism during that period, and conclude with both a sketch of anarchist terrorism after 1914 and a brief comparison between present-day terrorism and its nineteenth-century predecessor. Although the Irish Fenians, the Italian nationalists, and the Russian populists, particularly the Nihilists, all made their contributions to the creation of modern terrorism, it is only after 1880 with the widespread appearance of anarchist terrorism, or “propaganda by the deed,” that terrorism became a European-wide, and then an international, phenomenon. The powerful and frightening symbolism inherent in the idea of anarchy and anarchism, and in the reality of the anarchist bomb thrower and assassin, proved so powerful that it tended to dominate all perceptions of terrorism, at least until the Bolshevik revolution of 1917. Anyone who threw a bomb or assassinated a prominent person tended to be labelled an “anarchist” whether or not he or she subscribed to anarchist ideology.

The period from 1880 to 1914 might be termed the canonical, and certainly the most famous, era of anarchist terrorism.2 It was a worldwide phenomenon spread and connected by emigration (principally from Europe) and immigration, and by worldwide webs of shipping lines, communications networks, and not least, by cheap publications—above all, the mass market newspaper. Countries on every continent, except Antarctica, experienced acts of terrorism committed by real and alleged anarchists; even those lands free of anarchist violence became seriously concerned about such deeds. Anarchist assassinations and bomb-throwings occurred in sixteen countries on three continents: in Europe, Australia, and North and South America.3 Among other places, important anarchist groups developed in Egypt, China, and Japan. In 1898 Kaiser Wilhelm did not visit Egypt precisely because he feared an attack by resident Italian anarchists. In 1910, before their arrest and trial, Japanese anarchists were apparently plotting to murder the Emperor.4 For Australia, one can point to a single act of propaganda by the deed, and that is, the July 27, 1893, bombing of the ship Aramac by an Australian anarchist named Larry Petrie (or De Petrie) during a labour dispute.

Multiple acts of violence in India demonstrated both the global reach of the “anarchist wave” and the way in which the anarchist label was applied (and misapplied) to non-anarchist terrorism. Anarchism, which normally viewed the nation-state and religion as oppressive forces, exercised relatively little influence on the development of Indian terrorism.5 Nonetheless, before the first World War the British press and the British government tended to label all Indian nationalists carrying out violent anti-British deeds as “anarchists,” and linked them directly to anarchist attentats in Europe. Following an April 1908 bomb explosion killing two Britons in Bengal, the London Times quoted a “high police official” in India as attributing “the Anarchist tendency now to be observed in India to the influence upon a certain section of the population to the doings of Anarchists in Europe and America.”6

The death toll caused by anarchist terrorism, at least outside of Russia, was relatively small compared to today’s horrifying standards. According to my calculations, during the period 1880-1914 and leaving the Tsar’s empire apart, at least 160 people died and about 500 were injured due to anarchist bombs, guns, or daggers.

Anarchist terrorism in Russia deserves a separate discussion both because of its peculiar features and its late development. It did not exist before the 1905 revolution. In that revolution’s conditions of insurrection, quasi-civil war, and the temporary collapse of central state authority, however, terrorist acts by both Socialist Revolutionaries and anarchists mushroomed astronomically. Four thousand people were murdered in 1906-1907 for political ends, and if Anna Geifman’s estimates are correct, at least half of these were killed by anarchists. She claims that the majority of the 17,000 wounded and killed between 1901 and 1916 by terrorists suffered their fate at the hand of the anarchists.7

If, outside of Russia, anarchist terrorism before World War I killed relatively few people, it is significant for a number of other reasons. “Anarchists began the use of letter-bombs and automobiles for terrorist purposes.” In Russia, some became suicide bombers.8 They also initiated the mass and random slaughter of innocent civilians.9 This feature of anarchist terrorism, although it had begun in Spain, reached its height in Russia with its limitless, “motiveless,” and purely criminal terror. In Spain, besides the terrorist bloodbath, the special contribution made to terrorism’s murderous history (and often attributed, perhaps falsely, to the anarchists) was the anonymous bombing campaign in which explosions went on for years at a time, but without a clearly identified author or motivation. Anarchist “deeds exercised an enormous impact due to the powerful symbolism of the targets chosen and the advent of a mass journalism eager to publicize terrorist acts.” For example, seven European, Russian, and American monarchs and heads of state or government were assassinated by anarchists (or former anarchists) in the fourteen years between 1894 and 1912. No other terrorist group in history murdered so many rulers. Several other assassinations during this period, e.g., of Prime Minister Petkov of Bulgaria in 1907, and of the King and Crown Prince of Portugal in 1908, were often attributed to the anarchists, although probably falsely. “Anarchist ideology had less to do with unleashing this wave of terrorism than local and national traditions of violence and conditions of socio-economic and political malaise” in individual nations.10

International Efforts to Control Anarchist Terrorism, 1880-1914

Anarchist terrorism was both a reality and an illusion. While the anarchists perpetrated some astonishing acts of violence, with one or two important exceptions, these were never linked to conspiracies of any size nor were they connected to a grand plan to destroy Western civilization and obliterate all the monarchs and ruling heads of state and government in Europe and the Americas (if not the entire globe). Yet the authorities often feared and the media frequently suggested that this was the case. By connecting together a disparate series of events, many having nothing to do with anarchism, newspapers helped create the “myth” of anarchist terrorism as a fearsomely powerful phenomenon sweeping through the world. Many governments, frightened publics, and vengeful anarchists (as well as those who aspired to the name of anarchist) came to believe in this myth.

Between 1880 and 1914, fear of anarchist violence, or better, fear of the anarchist myth and a cataclysmic subversion of society, was the essential reason behind repeated efforts at both the national and international level to contain or defeat anarchist terrorism.11 Many nations passed anti-anarchist legislation. During the mid 1880s, and in response to the Fenians and Nihilists as well as the anarchists, several countries in northern and central Europe passed laws against the criminal use of explosives: Britain (10 April 1883); Germany (9 June 1884), Austria (27 May 1885), and Belgium (22 May 1886); Switzerland passed a comparable law in April 1894. During the far more violent nineties and the first decade of the twentieth, at least thirteen countries passed laws specifically designed to curb propaganda by the deed. These countries included France (laws of April 1892, December 1893, and July 1894), Spain (July 1894 and September 1896), Italy (July 1894), Denmark (April 1894), Sweden (June 1906), Bulgaria (March 1907), and Argentina (June 1910). These laws included heavy penalties for the abusive and lethal use of explosives, public support for and incitement to commit anarchist crimes, trying to subvert the military, and belonging to an anarchist association. France and Portugal placed restrictions on publishing the proceedings of anarchist trials. The United States passed two laws (3 March 1903 and February 1907) excluding the immigration of anarchists and providing for their deportation. The states of New York and New Jersey (April 1902), and Wisconsin (May 1903) passed laws punishing advocacy of “criminal anarchy.”12

International Police Cooperation

International cooperation against the anarchists was usually more successful bilaterally, and especially between police forces, since it could be developed out of a common police culture based on shared expertise, rather than international diplomatic cooperation between nation-states, particularly at the multilateral level. In an era of intense nationalism, political divisions between rival governments made it very difficult to organize comprehensive multilateral policing, which only fully emerged with the founding of Interpol’s predecessor in the 1920s.

As far as the anarchist terrorists were concerned, substantial international attempts to combat them (as well as the Nihilists and revolutionary socialists with whom they were often confused) can be traced back at least to the 1870s. These efforts developed in the context of growing discontent among the working classes, increasing efforts to organize labour (efforts often led by radicals), and a rash of assassination attempts culminating in the killing of Tsar Alexander II in March 1881. Attempts made in the 1870s and 1880s to create multi-national cooperation against Nihilists and members of the socialist International failed. Therefore countries such as Italy, Russia, and Britain resorted to the unilateral creation of international policing networks.

In the 1880s, Britain had little to fear from anarchists or socialist revolutionaries, but it did experience major difficulties with the activities of the “Fenians,” Irish nationalists based in the United States who hoped to provoke a rebellion in Ireland through carrying out terrorist actions in Britain. The Fenians, probably the originators of history’s first modern terrorist campaign, had no connection with the anarchists. Nonetheless, the British response to the Fenians, their passage of anti-explosive laws and creation of the Special Branch (a secret political or investigative police which also guarded persons in high office) inside London’s Metropolitan Police Department, helped them in the 1890s to deal successfully with the anarchist threat.

In the 1890s more intensive, systematic, and widespread bilateral, police, and diplomatic collaboration against the anarchists replaced the sporadic police and diplomatic cooperation against them (and other terrorist groups) of the previous decade. France, Spain, Italy, Austria, and Germany placed or hired police and/or informers in other countries and worked to promote international police cooperation through the exchange of information about the anarchists both at border crossings and between central police organizations. The mid-1890s, following anarchist bombings in France, Belgium, Spain, Portugal, and Italy, witnessed a pinnacle of activity as France, Italy, Austria-Hungary, and the federal states of the German Empire concluded bilateral agreements to monitor and exchange information on the anarchists. Germany and Austria worked from behind the scenes to promote much of this cooperation. To some extent Austria resumed the role that Metternich, the famous Hapsburg foreign minister, had played in the first half of the century in creating an anti-subversive policing system, although Austria’s actions were on a smaller scale and proved less successful. The headstrong Kaiser Wilhelm II pushed Germany to take an active role against the anarchists, but his government, for a variety of reasons, including fear that a leading German position might expose the emperor to increased risk of assassination, preferred a lower profile. In December 1893 Spain, scene of the bloodiest anarchist bombings of the nineties, sought to take the lead in forging a European, multilateral anti-anarchist accord, but failed due to the opposition of France and Britain.

In the 1890s and later, controversies raged over the extradition and expulsion of anarchists. Countries of asylum for the anarchists, pre-eminently Switzerland and Britain because of their long-standing traditions of liberalism and giving sanctuary to political refugees, usually, but not always, fended off pressures placed on them to crack down more firmly on their resident subversives. Policies of expulsion and extradition became increasingly important in combating anarchism as countries sought to get rid of both domestic and foreign anarchists by ejecting them (or getting countries of asylum to expel or extradite them). Spain was a sharp thorn in the side of many European countries, since it was prone to empty its prisons of scores of often destitute anarchists, whom it then pushed across foreign borders or dumped into leaky vessels bound for England.

As an example of how anarchist terrorism was metamorphosing into a global, and not simply a European, problem, in 1897 Argentina, fearful of becoming an anarchist haven, concluded an accord with Italy to provide mutual notification of the departure for each others’ shores of known anarchists. Vast European, particularly Italian, immigration had carried some of the anarchists to prosperous Argentina, as well as to many other countries. Anarchist terrorism did not erupt in Argentina during the 1890s, however, although it did about fifteen years later, in 1909-10.

During the 1890s, Britain became the envy of all Europe by largely avoiding anarchist terrorism. In part this was due to the greater stability of its institutions and popularity of its political leaders (e.g., Gladstone and Queen Victoria) than those on the Continent. Britain was more democratic than Spain or Italy (although not France). Even more importantly, by 1900 Britain had developed the largest organized labour movement in the world with more than double the number of union members of Germany and four times that of France. French anarchists, such as Emile Pouget, who in 1894 had been forced to flee to England by government repression, observed this amazing development and became increasingly involved in anarcho-syndicalism, the anarchist version of unionism.

British policing and intelligence were also better than in the rest of Europe. During the 1890s the British detective (epitomized in literature by Sherlock Holmes, who in 1887 made his appearance in a Conan Doyle story, although the British sleuth became popular only a few years later) supplanted the French as the gold standard for investigative excellence. The Special Branch now prevented several anarchist bombings. Protected by the Special Branch and other English police, no British or foreign monarch or statesman suffered anarchist assassination or even assault while on British soil. In the 1890s, both the British and the French also created facilities for the safe (or mostly safe!) disposal of recovered bombs.

The 1898 International Anti-Anarchist Conference of Rome

In November and December 1898 occurred the only European-wide anti-anarchist congress ever held and history’s first international gathering convened to combat terrorism. In September 1898 the assassination of the Empress Elizabeth of Austria, reputedly benevolent and once considered Europe’s most beautiful woman, shocked contemporaries more than many earlier terrorist deeds. Moreover the murder of an Austrian Empress by an Italian anarchist on Swiss soil was truly an international crime. These factors, together with all the anarchist attentats of the previous years, led to the calling of the conference.

Some contemporary diplomats and later historians have dismissed this little known and secret conference as “not worth the paper [its final protocol] was written on,” to quote the French ambassador who attended the meeting. In fact one of Rome’s most important accomplishments remained unwritten and off the record, i.e. the agreement for more cooperation and information exchange concluded by police representatives and officials in two secret meetings held during the conference. Sir Howard Vincent, perhaps the most colourful character at the meeting, founder of Scotland Yard’s Criminal Investigation Division and of the Special Branch, and the British delegate who initiated the secret police meetings, asserted that the Rome gathering prevented “anarchist outrages” for a year and a half.

A balanced overall assessment of the Rome Conference would conclude that some of its recommendations for legislative and administrative measures, as well as rules governing extradition and expulsion procedures, proved to be dead letters, while others did not. The Rome anti-anarchist accord was in fact quite influential in promoting the “Belgian [or attentat] clause,” which exempted assassins of heads of state from the usual protection provided in extradition treaties for those who committed political crimes.

It also led to wider use of portrait parleacute, an offshoot of the famous French criminologist Alphonse Bertillon’s complex method of identification termed anthropometry or Bertillonage. This was the world’s first precise, and apparently “scientific,” system of describing the human body and identifying criminals. As Jean Viguieacute, head of the French Sucircreteacute and a delegate to the conference, explained it, portrait parleacute, by focusing on the dozen or so fixed qualities of the human face (such as the shape of the ear and the forehead) and describing them in a systematic and precise fashion, would enable an observer to pick out a suspect “in any place, at any hour.”

If the police of every country definitely adopt it, it will be like a universal eye staring at noted criminals as they pass by and infallibly unmasking them despite the perfection of their most well executed disguises.

The acquisition of this “universal” unmasking “eye” required, according to Viguieacute, “only” thirty lessons of two hours each.13

The Rome Conference’s promotion of portrait parleacute was important because one of the reasons that anarchists were able to find safe haven in so many places is that they were invisible to the authorities. After an Italian immigrant resident of Paterson, New Jersey, crossed the Atlantic to assassinate King Umberto I, the police chief of Paterson told journalists that there were no anarchists in the town (although it was one of the biggest anarchist centres in the United States due to the abundant work it provided anarchists and others in its huge silk factories).14 The police chief’s ignorance was due to the fact that he spoke no Italian and knew little of the large immigrant community of Italians, Spanish, and other Europeans who were living in his town. Anarchists were also invisible because, besides the relatively little known portrait parleacute and the cumbersome system of Bertillonage, no scientific means of identifying people existed. Finger printing was developed by the British in India during the mid-1890s, but was not universally adopted elsewhere for over a decade. The French waited until the 1930s to abandon the use of Bertillonage. Besides the disguising screens provided by language barriers and identification difficulties, most countries in the world, Russia being an important exception, did not require passports before World War I. People could move from one country to another with relatively little effort (other than by the police) to keep track of them.

A fourth way in which anarchists could find safe haven was journeying to territories where central authority, particularly police authority, was weak or divided. This included the United States, which before 1910 had no centralized bureau of investigation, such as the FBI, and before the 1920s, no centralized criminal identification system or record depository. Policing was divided between the various states and cities; communication between these police authorities was sporadic at best. Egypt was also a country of divided authority to which anarchists flocked. Each European state, through capitular agreements, policed its own nationals residing in Egyptian territory. Tangier in Northern Morocco became a magnet for anarchists (it was sometimes referred to as another “Paterson”) since Morocco, under its Sultan, was “a disordered mosaic composed of minute particles.” Increasing French and Spanish influence on and control over Morocco, and particularly over Tangier (which eventually became a free port and international city), prolonged the confusing internal situation.15

An even more important result of the Rome Conference than promoting portrait parleacute was its facilitating European police cooperation and providing a point of departure for subsequent anti-anarchist accords, such as the St. Petersburg Protocol of 1904. As Mathieu Deflem has pointed out in Policing World Society, a common police culture based on shared expertise and crossing international boundaries was able to implement procedures that politicians acting publicly could not.16 Contemporary fears, particularly from those on the Left and sometimes echoed in later historical writing, that the Rome Conference was a resurrection of the early nineteenth-century Holy Alliance, aimed at crushing all revolutionary, socialist, or even reformist impulses in Europe, proved to be largely unfounded (although the governments of Russia, Germany, and some other countries might have welcomed such a development).

Two assassinations on either side of the Atlantic, that of King Umberto of Italy (July 1900), and of President McKinley (September 1901) exercised an enormous impact on anti-terrorist policing. They highlighted the inadequacy of protection provided for Italian and American heads of state. One can make the case for a significant change around the turn of the century, amounting to a virtual revolution, in the way leaders were guarded. As a result of the anarchist threat, at least four major countries carried out police reforms that made protection of leaders bureaucratic, systematic, and official, rather than, as in the past, ad hoc and personal. Just as “scientific policing” was the goal toward which much of late nineteenth-century police reform aimed, so now for the first time in history the protection of high officials became a kind of science. In 1883 the British Special Branch was formed to guard monarchs as well as fight terrorists, in the 1890s the Berlin police began a systematic, bureaucratized guardianship of the Kaiser, in the fall of 1900 a special police unit was created in Italy to protect the king, and in 1902 the U.S. Secret Service assumed full-time responsibility for the protection of the president. Based in part on the Italian system, in January 1914 Greece created a special public security service for sovereigns and high-ranking personages.

The assassinations of Umberto and McKinley also led to a second important development, the dispatch of police detective forces to regions all over the world that harboured large groups of anarchists. Germany, Austria-Hungary, and France had already developed small anti-subversive police networks and, except for France, slowly expanded them in the twentieth century. From its centre in Paris, Russia’s enormous police agency abroad continued its aggressive monitoring of anarchists and other so-called subversives. After the June 1910 bombing of the Teatro Colon in Buenos Aires, one of the world’s great opera houses, Argentina sent agents to the major European ports to carry out surveillance of emigrants leaving for Argentina who might possibly be dangerous anarchists.

Especially significant was Italy’s creation of a network of police and informers in the United States, South America, Spain, France, Switzerland, and England to monitor the activities of anarchists living in far-flung communities of Italian emigrants. Italy had had some informers and police abroad before, but never on this scale and never across the Atlantic. Prior to 1900, the Italian government had given only sporadic and limited importance to building a permanent international intelligence network to monitor Italian anarchists (and revolutionary socialists of all sorts) who might be potential assassins and bomb-throwers. In the nineteenth century, Italian consulates in cities known to harbour subversives might hire informers, but there was only one Italian policeman posted abroad to coordinate spying efforts. This was Ettore Sernicoli, who took up his position in Paris in May 1882. After the shock caused by the assassination of King Umberto, however, Italy created an international police system probably second only to Russia’s in terms of its size and scope. Beginning in October 1900, Italy sent policemen to hire informers and monitor anarchists in New York City (and throughout America), and in Buenos Aires (and across Argentina). In June 1901 a policeman was posted to Brazil, and in July 1901, to London. In February 1902, at the request of the Egyptian Khedival Government, which acted under the supervision of the British, Italy sent six police officers to Egypt to serve in the country’s anti-anarchist surveillance unit attached to its ministry of the interior. By 1907 police commissioners had been dispatched to Zurich, Switzerland, Lyon, France, and Montpellier, Vermont (in the latter case, with the intention of monitoring the militant anarchist editor Luigi Galleani and the Italian anarchist stonecutters who were working in the quarries of Barre, Vermont). By 1908, police were posted permanently to Nice and Marseilles in France and on a frequent, perhaps permanent, basis in Barcelona (where they cooperated with French and German police agents who were also there monitoring the anarchists); by 1913 to Berne and Geneva in Switzerland. In September 1912, after the end of the Turkish-Italian war over Libya, a police office was even set up in Constantinople.

Good intelligence effectively acted upon is one of the keys to preventing terrorist outrages, as the American experience of 9/11 should indicate. After a few misadventures, such as that with police commissioner Prina in London, Italian police intelligence, both national and international, improved and probably deserves some credit for the virtual disappearance of anarchist terrorism as an important issue in Italian life and politics between 1900 and World War I (by contrast, the same cannot be said for Spain, where bombs and assassinations continued to cause serious disruptions to society). Forewarned by confidential informers, the Italian police under Prime Minister Giolitti’s expert overall control seem to have prevented a number of assassination attempts. In early June 1906 the police discovered several bombs at the shop of an anarchist barber in Ancona, and two weeks later, they discovered three bombs secreted near the railway track over which the king was scheduled to journey for his visit to the Adriatic port, one of Italy’s most important anarchist centres.17 In 1911, with the assistance of the Italian consuls in Geneva and New York City (and presumably with the help of the Italian police official residing in New York), three anarchists, apparently intending to strike at the king as he visited the Turinese Exposition celebrating Italy’s unification, were arrested at Genoa and Turin. Notario and Costelli, the anarchists arriving in Genoa from New York, were in the possession of arms, explosives, and publications glorifying the assassin Bresci.18 In her detailed history of public security under Giolitti, Fiorenza Fiorentino also notes various additional anarchist plots originating from abroad that were possibly prevented by police intelligence work (although Italian agent provocateurs were partially responsible for some of these plots).19 This record of successful intelligence work stands in stark contrast with what happened in Italy in the 1890s, when those who planted the bombs that killed people outside the Italian parliament and damaged the ministries of Justice and War (as well as other buildings) were never discovered. At the time, Prime Minister Crispi lamented that the detective service of the Italian police was virtually non-existent.20

On the other hand, in its first years the newly expanded Italian anti-anarchist intelligence system also committed a few glaring blunders. Ettore Prina, the Italian police officer assigned to anti-anarchist work in London, had an abrasive and tactless personality unsuitable for the delicate task of handling informers. In September 1902 a recently dismissed anarchist informer earlier recruited by Prina travelled to Brussels and fired three shots at King Leopold of Belgium. Rubino, the ex-anarchist informer, had used money obtained from police officer Prina to purchase his revolver and ammunition and to pay his way over to Brussels.

The Prina-Rubino scandal highlights what was a persistent problem in anti-anarchist policing, i.e., that, on a number of occasions, the police itself either instigated terrorism or through inept handling of informers provoked and facilitated terrorist acts. The worst instances of this occurred in Spain and Russia. For example, in 1903 a captain of the civil guard, the Spanish gendarmes, organized a bomb conspiracy in Tarragona, near Barcelona, in order to impress his superiors by later foiling the plot.21 The most spectacular case of Spanish police-instigated terrorism was that of Joan (or Juan) Rull, a former anarchist who for money turned police informer and for a time became the confidant of the governor of Barcelona. In July 1907 he was arrested (and later tried and executed) for planting, and in several cases setting off, the very bombs he was supposed to be helping discover and defuse.22 In September 1911, Dmitrii Bogrov, a double agent whose former anarchist comrades had discovered his police connections and threatened to execute him unless he killed a high official, murdered Russian Prime Minister Stolypin at a performance of the Kiev Opera. The Russian police, who should have been more alert to signs of Bogrov’s unreliability, provided him with a ticket for the gala occasion.23

Besides creating or enlarging international networks of police and informers, the two transatlantic murders of heads of state stimulated a renewed effort to achieve a multi-national anti-anarchist accord. Germany and Russia spearheaded this effort, which resulted in the conclusion of the secret St. Petersburg Anti-Anarchist Protocol specifying procedures for expulsion, calling for the creation of central anti-anarchist offices in each country, and in general, regularizing inter-police communication regarding anarchists. Ten eastern, south-eastern, central, and northern European nations (Russia, Rumania, Serbia, Bulgaria, the Ottoman Empire, Austria-Hungary, Germany, Denmark, and Sweden-Norway) signed the Protocol on 14 March 1904. Spain and Portugal soon adhered (June 15 and 25, 1904), Switzerland became a de facto participant (31 March 1904), and Luxembourg concluded a trilateral accord with Germany and Russia alone (May 1904).

Interestingly, Italy and the United States, the two most aggrieved parties, as well as France and Britain, did not sign the anti-anarchist protocol. Besides America’s long-standing reluctance to become involved in European entanglements, Secretary of State Hays’s dislike of the Germans and Russians, and the difficulty of signing a secret treaty that could not be ratified by the Senate in public session, America’s refusal was due to the lack of a national policing system that could cooperate effectively with the Europeans. Italy voiced concerns about provisions in the protocol providing for anarchist expulsion back to their home countries, which might become a form of disguised extradition (and contrary to Italian law) and the possibility that thousands of Italian anarchists might be forced back to Italy with no legal means of preventing their unwelcome return.24 In November 1913 Spain requested that Germany once more invite Italy and the United States, as well as the Latin American countries of Argentina, Brazil, Cuba, and Panama to join the anti-anarchist league, because significant numbers of anarchists resided in all these states.25 Spain also asked for more effective exchanges of information about the anarchists, the use of a single language when communicating, and the establishment of the requirement that, at the request of consular officials, captains assist in keeping track of anarchists on board their vessels. Little seems to have come of the Spanish proposals, and none of the states listed by Spain subsequently adhered to the Protocol. Another failed initiative involved Japan. Perhaps in response to fears of its small native anarchist movement, in February 1909 Tokyo inquired about adhering to the Protocol, but, for unknown reasons, soon dropped its request (October 1909).

Before World War I, some signs appeared that anti-anarchist cooperation between the European states was decreasing. In the fall of 1913 Switzerland refused to transport Italian anarchists being expelled from Germany directly to the police in Italy, as they had done in the past; henceforth the Swiss insisted that diplomatic channels be used. The Germans thought that this change of policy resulted from internal Swiss politics and concern for the viewpoint of the socialist party.26 At the beginning of the next year, Sweden, Norway (which had now broken away from Sweden and become a fully independent state), and Portugal (which in 1910 had become a republic) informed Berlin that they also would no longer permit direct police to police communications regarding the expulsions of anarchists (as the St. Petersburg Protocol provided) but instead that such communications would have to go through diplomatic channels.

Eventually political and ideological divisions between rival governments, culminating in World War I, undermined and destroyed the St. Petersburg Protocol’s attempt to create a formal anti-anarchist alliance (although it operated among the Central Powers to the end of the war). How should one assess the overall impact of the St. Petersburg Protocol? Historians of the Russian secret police do not see it as having played a big part in the Tsar’s efforts to thwart anarchists and violent revolutionaries. Diplomatic and bilateral police ties appear to have been the normal channels for interaction between the Russian secret police abroad and foreign authorities. This made all the more sense because the Russian political police abroad was centred in France, a country that had not signed the Protocol. Spain clearly appreciated it (as well as the help and information provided by foreign governments through other channels), only wanting to expand the Protocol’s sphere and effectiveness.

Perhaps the best way to assess the protocol, as well as the Final Act of the Rome Conference, is to look at them in a larger context. Both diplomatic agreements encouraged more effective police cooperation and information exchange, and they operated in conjunction with a web of bilateral accords that had been signed in the mid 1890s among a large number of European states who never adhered to the Protocol. While the state of research does not allow one to point to specific cases where these formal agreements stopped terrorists, they are part of general trends toward better European intelligence, which at least in the Italian case, can plausibly be shown to have prevented some acts of terrorism.

Political and Social Policies to Curb Terrorism, 1880-1914

One can point to the various examples showing that better police cooperation and intelligence forestalled assassinations and bombings, as best exemplified by the efforts of Britain’s anti-terrorist Special Branch set up in the 1880s and by the Italians after 1900, but still conclude that anarchist terrorism did not decline in most of Europe after 1900 primarily because of police measures alone. Heavy handed repression during the 1890s frequently led to anarchist acts of revenge, setting off chain reactions of violence that had often seemed impervious to police repression. Since the mystique of the powerful anarchist terrorist had such a strong grip on the imagination of the age, the allure of “propaganda by the deed,” i.e., violent anarchist acts, could only be countered by undermining and devaluing this image and by opening up alternate outlets for the energies of discontented proletarians and middle class idealists who became terrorists and assassins. These developments took place most strikingly in France and Italy, but, disastrously, not in Spain.

Examining the situation in Italy during this period, it is clear that during the 1890s excessive Italian policies of repression had politicized anarchist violence, creating martyrs and a thirst for revenge that culminated in the assassination of King Umberto in 1900. After 1900, however, the policies of the Italian government worked in a significant fashion to diminish, downplay, and redefine the role of anarchist terrorism. The Italian government was able to break the chain reaction of violence, repression, and revenge that had characterized the relationship between the anarchists and the authorities during the nineties. Labour union and strike activity became available as a safety valve for proletarian energies due to the progressive social policies of Giolitti, the dominant political figure first as Interior Minister and then as Premier. The growing socialist party, together with mushrooming strikes and labour organizations, including syndicalist groups, all served to absorb and domesticate anarchist and proletarian energies, diverting them away from individualistic acts of propaganda by the deed and toward more organized and non-violent efforts to alter society.

Moreover, Giolitti worked consistently, and relatively effectively since the public proved receptive to his messages and policies, to shape, limit, or deny publicity for anarchism and anarchist violence. This was very important since, as many scholars, e.g., Walter Laqueur and Bruce Hoffman, have observed, publicity and media coverage are a key factor in nurturing and sustaining terrorism.27 One way Giolitti downplayed anarchism was to refuse it special treatment. Giolitti refused to pass anti-anarchist laws or to sign on to new anti-anarchist diplomatic accords (although he adhered to those already agreed to, such as the bilateral treaties between Italy and neighbouring states signed during the 1890s and the Rome Final Act of 1898). He refused to mention the word “anarchist” in connection with, for example, the 1912 attempted regicide, Antonio D’Alba, and for the most part was able to prevent D’Alba’s picture from appearing in the newspapers. Giolitti, whose efforts coincided with evolving attitudes in Italian society, largely succeeded in changing the frame of reference for understanding and dealing with anarchist acts of violence from that of deeds of political and social protest to crimes committed by juvenile delinquents and psychopaths. These were best dealt with by the courts and the psychiatrists, rather than by the government and the legislature.

Of further help in creating a new mindset congenial to Giolitti’s approach to terrorism, was the increasing permeation throughout Italian society of the ideas of Cesare Lombroso and other criminal anthropologists. In 1894 Lombroso had argued in a famous, although very controversial, book that anarchists, and in particular anarchist assassins and bomb-throwers, were epileptic, insane, the victims of congenital disease of various sort, degenerate, hysterical, and often suicidal. While later on Lombroso’s ideas became increasingly discredited, at the time Italians accepted them as mostly legitimate.28

In France, where anarcho-syndicalism was born in 1895, policies and socio-economic developments comparable to those in Italy also defused the anarchist menace (although early on the French rejected Lombrosianism).

The situation in Spain differed from that in France and Italy, since in the Iberian Peninsula anarchist violence remained an important phenomenon even after the turn of the century. Anarchists made serious attempts on King Alfonso’s life in 1905, 1906, and 1913 resulting in the death of scores, and assassinated Prime Minister Canalejas in 1912 after he had cracked down on the anarchist press and labour movement. Spain’s worst outbreak of violence before World War I occurred in Barcelona in 1909. A general strike called to protest the drafting of men for combat service in Morocco led to five days of street fighting involving the anarchists and others. After the police and army had crushed the rebellion, killing at least 200 people, they subjected the prisoners to torture and executed five, including Francisco Ferrer, the well-known anarchist educator. The Ferrer case became a cause celebre throughout Europe, and his execution, far from dealing a deathblow to the movement he symbolized, only created a martyr and sympathy for the anarchists.

In Spain the passage of special anti-anarchist laws and the creation of anti-anarchist police squads exacerbated rather than ameliorated the problem of anarchist violence since these measures were frequently followed by cases of police cruelty and arbitrariness, and by examples of judicial injustice. Madrid signed the Rome and St. Petersburg Protocols, but since neighbouring France and nearby Italy refused to participate in the 1904 agreement, Spain was denied many of the benefits of international police cooperation and intelligence exchange.

Spain’s labour movement also served it badly, since it failed to function, or functioned only sporadically, as a safety valve for worker and anarchist discontent. Before World War I, the Spanish proletariat remained poorly organized and prone to bursts of intense, but short-lived, activity rather than to sustained efforts. The Spanish Socialist Party and its affiliated labour union grew very slowly, and continuous, large-scale anarchist involvement with the organized labour movement did not commence until 1910-11, with the founding of the Confederacion Nacional del Trabajo. For the first few years, however, the CNT was weak, its membership only 15-30,000, and not until 1917-18, when it reorganized along strictly syndicalist lines, did it begin to become a really effective organization representing hundreds of thousands of workers. Intransigent employers and hostile government policies also hindered the evolution of the Spanish labour movement.

Spain’s slow rate of economic and social development, which was much behind that of France and Italy, combined with the Spanish government’s policy of brutally and arbitrarily repressing dissent and strike activity and its failure to develop an effective policing apparatus, explain the continued incidence in the Iberian peninsula of extreme forms of political violence. The Spanish government’s failure to remould the public image of the anarchist, which remained more that of a persecuted martyr than of a common criminal, exacerbated the problem of anarchist violence in Spanish society.

A combination of economic, social, and political factors, linked with a systematic government effort to redefine and downplay the nature and importance of anarchist terrorism, provides the best explanation for why this form of violence declined in certain countries but not in others. Careful police intelligence work and international police cooperation, together with a more rigorously professional system of protection for monarchs and heads of state, could aid in reducing the problem of anarchist terrorism, but heavy-handed repression only worsened it.

Anarchist Terrorism After 1914

The phenomenon of anarchist terrorism after 1914 has been much less studied than the pre-war variety. Although the single most lethal act of anarchist terrorism in its entire history took place during this period, i.e., the Wall Street bombing of September 1920, on the whole anarchist terrorism was a much less salient feature of international life. In effect anarchism lost its publicity, or at least much of it, displaced in the newspapers and in popular imagination by the notoriety, above all, of the Bolshevik Revolution, but also by other events, such as the Irish struggle for independence, which unleashed its own formidable terrorist campaign. Based on a cursory analysis of newspaper accounts and on various other sources, one can conclude that at least seven countries in the Americas and Europe witnessed acts of anarchist violence. These were, by degree of importance, Spain, the United States, Italy, France, Argentina, Brazil, and Portugal. Anarchist terrorism in these countries led to the death, excluding those killed in Spain during 1919-21 and the 1930s and in Russia during its revolution and civil war, of at least 93 people and to the injury of some 375.

For this period Spain must be examined separately, as Russia was earlier, because of the extraordinary conditions of quasi-civil war that prevailed there, or to be more precise, in Catalonia in the years 1919-1921. In Barcelona virtual civil war raged between the labour movement and intransigent employers supported by the Spanish authorities, particularly by the army. Rival groups of gunmen, pistoleros, some affiliated with the government and the employer associations and others with the anarchists and the CNT carried out tit for tat assassinations and bombings. According to one source, between January 1919 and December 1923, over 700 people were murdered by the rival gangs and, presumably, roughly half of these victims were due to the anarchists.29 At the height of the violence an average of sixteen people in Barcelona were being assassinated weekly. The government and employer-affiliated forces threw bombs into a workman’s music hall and murdered dozens of syndicalist leaders, including many moderates who opposed violence, while in revenge anarchist “action groups” assassinated employers, the editor of a newspaper, the former Civil Governor of Barcelona (Count Salvatierra), Prime Minister Eduardo Dato (8 March 1921), and the Cardinal Archbishop of Saragossa (4 April 1923). This is the period of the “First Wave” of terrorism that most closely approximates the social strife, civil war, and terrorism in present-day Iraq, since in both cases we have a weak central government, and government authorities and government opponents deeply implicated in terrorist activities.30

After Spain, the United States experienced the bloodiest wave of anarchist terrorism post-1914. Between July 1914 and September 1920, anarchist explosives killed 52 to 62 people in the United States, including 8 anarchists whose bombs blew up prematurely.31 Among the more famous events of the post-war “Red Scare,” at the end of April 1919, was the mailing of thirty bombs to various high ranking officials, from the Attorney General and a Supreme Court justice to mayors, congressmen, and a Bureau of Investigation agent. On June 2, 1919, explosions at the homes of various officials took place almost simultaneously in seven American cities. “The culminating event of this wave of anarchist violence was the terrible Wall Street explosion of 16 September 1920, the deadliest act of terrorism in American history before the Oklahoma City bombing of April 1995.”32 The large dynamite bomb filled with heavy cast-iron slugs killed 33 people and injured over 200. Several historians believe the bomber was Mario Buda, a follower of Luigi Galleani, who was an Italian immigrant, anarchist, and advocate of terrorism.33

After Spain and the United States, Italy experienced the worst terrorist incidents after World War I. Bombings, apparently by anarchists, killed a few people in Milan (Hotel Cavour, 14 October 1920) and Turin (11 May 1921). Then on March 23, 1923 an anarchist bomb exploded at the Diana Theatre in Milan, killing 21 and injuring 172 people. While Italians had acquired the reputation of being the foremost assassins in Europe, slaughtering people uninvolved in politics in horrible bloodbaths was without precedent in the Italian peninsula. In the mid 1920s to early thirties, Italian anarchists made one or two (depending on how the youthful Anteo Zamboni’s beliefs should be characterized) attentats on the life of Mussolini and were involved in various conspiracies against il Duce.

In France anarchists shot Prime Minister Clemenceau in the shoulder on 19 February 1919 and murdered an editor of the rightwing Action Franccedilaise newspaper on 22 January 1923. Some bombings also occurred in Portugal (9 March 1921).

In Brazil and Argentina, a handful of bombings and one anarchist assassination took place between 1917 and 1925. Among the anarchist targets were the Palace of Justice in Buenos Aires (15 August 1920) and the Stock Exchange and Foreign Minister buildings in Rio De Janeiro (19 February 1920). In 1923, Argentine Colonel Varela was assassinated in Buenos Aires for ruthlessly repressing ranch labourers in Patagonia.34 Between 1926 and 1928, Miguel Arcangel Roscigna, leader of the Argentinean “anarchist expropriators,” who on one occasion collaborated in crime with Durutti, the famous Spanish anarchist, robbed several banks, leading to the death of a policeman.35 Having fled to Uruguay, the expropriators were captured and tortured by Luis Pardeiro, Montevideo’s police chief. In February 1932, anarchists seeking revenge gunned down Pardeiro and his chauffeur. This colourful, if gruesome, banditry, sometimes described as a mutant offshoot of the anarchist movement, in retrospect appears as a robust strand in anarchist history. Vienna suffered cruel anarchist robberies and murders in the 1880s, the Pini-Parmeggiani gang robbed in France and Italy in the 1890s, Marius Jacob and his band of illegalistes in the early 1900s, and in 1910-11 the Bonnot gang terrorized France and Belgium. The anarchists were not alone in their politically motivated (or at least partially politically motivated) robbing, since before World War I the Bolsheviks and other left-wing extremists had frequently robbed Russian banks.

The post-World War I surge of anarchist violence, which often took place in the context of severe social and economic dislocation, petered out in most of the world after the mid-1920s as prosperity and political stability, sometimes under dictatorial regimes, returned to Europe and the world. Powerful dictatorships led by more or less charismatic leaders ruthlessly repressed the anarchists in Russia (after the Bolshevik revolution of 1917), Italy (after the 1922 fascist takeover), and Spain (following military coups by General Primo De Rivera, 1923-30, and General Franco, 1939-75). These were three countries that had earlier been key centres of anarchism and anarchist terrorism. Anarchist violence only revived briefly in Spain in the mid-thirties at the onset of the Spanish Civil War. The Bolsheviks were now in the limelight as the greatest threat to Western, capitalist civilization, not the anarchists. Some anarchists had initially tried to co-opt the attractive power of the Bolshevik image by styling themselves “Anarcho-Bolsheviks” (as in Spain), but soon came to realize that Soviet Communism championed a ruthless dictatorial state that was the opposite of what the anarchists desired.36 With the rise of fascist dictatorships in Italy and Germany, anarchists found an enemy, along with the Soviet Union, more to be reviled than the former targets of their wrath (but yet, the anarchists were often impotent to strike with terrorist acts against those powerful police states).

Symbolic of the end of the age of anarchist terrorism were changes in international legal thinking (which also reflected a fundamental shift in the climate of opinion). Ever since a resolution passed in 1892 by the Institute of International Law, anarchist, or “social,” crimes had been defined as “criminal acts directed against the bases of the entire social order [toute organisation sociale], and not against only a certain State or a certain form of government.”37 In 1934 the International Conference for the Unification of Penal Law, held in Madrid, replicated this definition almost exactly when it wished to devise a legal formulation punishing terrorism:

He, who with the aim of destroying every social organization [or ‘the entire social order’, ‘toute organization sociale’] employs any means whatsoever to terrorize the population, will be punished.38

After three Croatian nationalists (with Mussolini’s support) assassinated Yugoslav King Alexander and French Prime Minister Barthou while they were being driven through the streets of Marseille in April 1934, it was no longer possible to view terrorist deeds as primarily the acts of anarchists. In the uproar over the assassinations, the League of Nations convened an international conference to draw up a convention for the prevention and punishment of terrorism. Completed in November 1937, although never fully ratified, this accord made no mention of anarchist or social crimes.39 Subsequently, the menacing advances of Nazi Germany, and even more, the horrors of World War II and the holocaust, made most people forget that anarchist violence had once been considered the greatest single threat to civilization.

Epilogue: Nineteenth Century Anarchist Violence and the Recent Wave of Religious Terrorism

Several authors have emphasized the similarities between the terrorism of the anarchists and the more recent wave of terrorism inspired by religious zealots.40 At least some resemblances are evident not only between the two groups of terrorists but also between government responses to these menaces. Both sorts of terrorists had (or were feared to have) “weapons of mass destruction,” dynamite for the anarchists and nuclear and biological weapons for the current crop of terrorists. Contemporary writers referred to the explosive power of dynamite in apocalyptic terms comparable to those used by Oppenheimer to describe the first atomic bomb.41 Ironically, more primitive weapons often proved more practical and lethal: box cutters and airplanes for the al-Qaedists, the dagger and the pistol for the anarchists.42

By the early twentieth century, anarchist terrorism appeared to be a universal threat, like al-Qaeda today, with real or alleged anarchist assassinations and bombings occurring on nearly every continent. A plausible argument can also be made that the periods at the end of the nineteenth century and more recently are similar since both have been eras of especially intense economic “globalization” leading to severe disruptions of traditional society. These dislocations have led to socio-economic and political malaise congenial to the germination of terrorism. In the case of the anarchists, but probably much less so with the Jihadists, unemployment, economic depression, the prohibition of legitimate labour organization and strike activity, corrupt political systems and governments insensitive to popular demands, provided fertile grounds for producing terrorists.

In a number of instances, immigrant populations, people forced to leave their homelands for economic or political reasons, proved to be the source of terrorists, be they anarchists, e.g., Italians living in Paterson, New Jersey, or Jihadists, e.g., Saudis residing in Germany. The role of diasporas in fomenting terrorism, however, should not be exaggerated. Only about half of the Italian anarchists involved in violent deeds, 1889-1914, can be linked to an emigrant experience and apparently only two (or fewer) out of two dozen terrorists became anarchists after leaving Italy.43 The other half stayed and committed their assassinations and bombings inside the peninsula. Before 1914, 20 percent or less of the French and Spanish (and none of the German) anarchists involved in propaganda by the deed were eacutemigreacutes.44

The socio-economic causes of terrorism seem much more important for the anarchist terrorists than for the Jihadists. The seminal event in generating al-Qaeda’s terrorism was the Soviets’ invasion of Afghanistan and Osama Bin-Laden and other Arabs’ role in expelling them. Unlike anarchism, Jihadism’s fundamental complaint is not the product, or primarily the product, of socio-economic distress. Rather it is a protest against what al-Qaeda perceives to be Western, “crusader” imperialism. Therefore, al-Qaeda’s major discontent appears to resemble more that of the Irish, Algerian, and other anti-imperialist and anti-colonialist terrorists of the period from the 1920s to the 1960s, what David C. Rapoport has called the second wave of terrorism, than that of the propagandists by the deed.45

James Gelvin has noted that both al-Qaeda and the anarchists have (or had) a predilection for attacking symbolic targets (the World Trade Center, the Pentagon, parliament buildings, stock exchanges, opera houses et cetera). While this is certainly true, every terrorist movement has chosen to hit symbols of their enemies’ power in order to garner publicity and achieve maximum shock value. One wonders if the anarchists and al-Qaedaists are significantly more prone than other terrorists to choose such targets. It also needs to be pointed out that many of the people who were the subjects of anarchist attack were selected in revenge for specific abuses for which they held some responsibility, such as torturing innocent anarchists or shooting down unarmed men, women, and children. The anarchists’ victims were not simply abstract symbols of repression.

Gelvin’s most interesting claim is his contention that al-Qaeda and the anarchists are similar since both wish to destroy the modern nation-state, either because they see it as a Western, colonialist imposition (al-Qaeda) or as a universal cause of human oppression (anarchism). But Gelvin fails to note that once the evil State is destroyed, the anarchists and the Jihadists dramatically part company. While Bin Laden envisions the birth of a massive Islamic empire or caliphate strictly ruled by religious law or sharia, the anarchists looked toward liberation from the bonds of all hierarchical authority, religious structures, and both secular and religious law.

Islamic terrorism’s increasing resort to suicide bombings as a tactic finds a precedent among the Russian Nihilists (who introduced the practice in 1881) and the anarchists, although only sporadically and on a much reduced scale.46 A fatalistic resignation to being captured and possibly martyred was a more common anarchist attitude than consciously planning to self-destruct during the terrorist deed. Suicide bombings by anarchists occurred only in Russia and were not that frequent.47

The decentralized and loosely organized quality of al-Qaeda has also been cited as paralleling anarchist terrorism. In both cases the myths of powerful anarchist and Islamist terrorist movements have served to attract followers throughout the world who act or acted in the name of groups and ideologies with which they often had minimal connections. Before World War I, the salient impulse behind anarchist violence was spontaneous individual action. As anarchism itself evolved and became more organized (after the mid 1890s, syndicalist organizations emerged as increasingly important outlets for anarchist energies), so too did anarchist terrorism. Between 1914 and 1920 the Italian Galleanists organized an impressive terrorist campaign culminating in 1919 in nearly simultaneous bombings across the United States.48 But this was rather exceptional and the anarchists, despite the fears of the authorities, never organized international terrorist campaigns comparable to al-Qaeda’s East Africa bombings of 1998 or the 9/11 attacks (although it seemed that the anarchists had achieved this during 1892-94 when, in rapid succession, their bombs exploded in France, Spain, and Italy). The anarchists never foreshadowed al-Qaeda by creating terrorist training camps or central command posts.

If the apparent similarities between the anarchists and al-Qaeda often break down when subjected to close scrutiny, intriguing comparisons can be made between public fears and government responses during the two eras. To the seemingly cataclysmic and universal threat posed by the terrorists, governments, in the 1890s-early 1900s as well as today, have responded with unprecedented efforts at international cooperation. As for the United States, while the anti-terrorist rhetoric of Theodore Roosevelt matched that of George W. Bush in its apocalyptic intensity, the former’s concrete actions did not. The leadership of the coalition against the anarchists fell to the more conservative (in fact reactionary) Germans, Russians, and for much shorter periods, the Austrians and the Italians, not to the Americans. In both cases, the coalition of the Western world against the terrorists fell apart after an initial unity (e.g., all of Europe attended the 1898 Rome Conference; the world stood solidly behind the United States immediately after 9/11). The dissolution of the anti-terrorist alliance was due to the differing ideological bents and national interests of the various states (e.g., Western Europe, except for Iberia and Scandinavia, refused to adhere to the 1904 St. Petersburg Protocol backed by the conservative eastern empires; in 2003 only Britain and Spain joined the United States in supporting an attack on Iraq).

In the nineteenth century, as today, a strong temptation existed (and exists) for governments to exploit and exaggerate the danger of terrorism in order to attain political goals distinct from simply repressing terrorism. For example, German Chancellor Bismarck in the 1880s and Italian Prime Minister Francesco Crispi in the 1890s used the fear of anarchist terrorism to pass laws later employed to suppress their countries’ respective socialist parties. This was despite the fact that the socialists did not support terrorism.

As I pointed out above, the present civil war cum terrorism in Iraq finds its precedent in Barcelona’s 1919-21 period of terrorism and civil war between the anarchist-dominated labour movement and intransigent employers supported by the Spanish authorities. In both situations we find a weak central government, and government authorities and government opponents deeply implicated in terrorist activities. War and civil war unleash the bloodiest terrorist campaigns, as the reign of terror that followed the Russian Revolution of 1905 and the experience of Italy and America after World War I demonstrate.

In its use of torture and military tribunals Spain provides another point of comparison with contemporary governmental responses to terrorism. Lacking good intelligence about terrorist activities, both Spain and the United States resorted to torture to ferret out information. In both cases, whether it be at Montjuich prison in 1897 or Abu Ghraib in 2004, this strategy backfired, failed to end terrorism, and blackened the reputations of the governments involved. As governments and police forces have improved their intelligence gathering capacities, they have tended to become less heavy-handed and brutal in their reaction to real or potential terrorist acts. Evidence for this can be found in Italy, where after 1900 the Italian government reformed, improved, and greatly expanded its police and created a secret international force to monitor the activities of the anarchists. This significantly increased the level of its knowledge about and understanding of the Italian anarchists. Previously the situation had often been comparable to shadow boxing, with the authorities and the anarchists ignorantly striking out at symbols of each other, rather than at concrete realities. For instance, the Italian government long remained obsessed with the threat posed by Errico Malatesta, the famous anarchist leader, although he had publicly disavowed propaganda by the deed in the early 1890s, and cannot be directly linked to any violent anarchist deed after the 1870s.

In the early twentieth century the government in Rome also abandoned the use of military tribunals and arbitrary detention (domicilio coatto) for holding anarchists unconvicted of any crime. In the 1890s at least one anarchist was beaten to death while in police custody. But after 1900 we have no verified proof of the Italian police torturing anarchists (at least prior to Mussolini). Even after Italy stopped the practice, Spain continued to use military tribunals to try alleged anarchist terrorists and others, but this institution served it no better than Guantanamo and its deeply flawed system of military tribunals have served the United States. The strong suspicion that these military tribunals convict or have convicted innocent people led, for example, to an international outcry against Spain, accused of creating a new Inquisition. In Spain, it produced famous martyrs, like Francisco Ferrer, out of the very anarchists the military tribunals were supposed to crush and discredit.

In both the nineteenth century and today, it is clear that, at least in an initial phase, the terrorists and their official opponents came, and have come, to resemble one another. The terrorists’ criminality and brutality, their methods of conspiracy and secrecy have influenced and corrupted governments and police desperately trying to thwart their violent deeds. Because of this, the “cure” for terrorism has sometimes appeared as bad or worse than the problem itself.

Certainly any overall analysis that compares the terrorism of the anarchists and the Islamists should not stop with the terrorists themselves, since their actions and reactions are closely intertwined with those of the authorities, the media, and the public. Martin Miller has suggestively designated this societal-terrorist embrace a “danse macabre.”49 Another general conclusion must be that, although some precedents can be found in anarchist terrorism for the later violence of al-Qaeda, the differences between the two phenomena are equally striking. Perhaps closer parallels can be cited between the reactions in the two eras of the affected governments and publics. In both situations, at least in much of Western Europe and the United States, the initial overreaction of the authorities, themselves under pressure from a panic-stricken public, gave way to more measured and sophisticated responses, in part because brutal repression has so often backfired.


1. David C. Rapoport, “The Four Waves of Modern Terrorism,” in Attacking Terrorism: Elements of a Grand Strategy, ed. Audrey Kurth Cronin and James M. Ludes (Washington D.C.: Georgetown University Press, 2004), 47, 50-52.

2. For a more detailed discussion of the development of anarchist terrorism see Richard Bach Jensen, “Daggers, Rifles and Dynamite: Anarchism Terrorism in 19th Century Europe,” Terrorism and Political Violence 16, no. 1 (Spring 2004), 116-153, and “The Evolution of Anarchist Terrorism in Europe and the United States from the Nineteenth Century to World War I,” in Terror: From Tyrannicide to Terrorism, ed. Brett Bowden and Michael T. Davis, with a Preface by Geoffrey Robertson (St Lucia, Queensland: The University of Queensland Press, 2008), 134-160.

3. Acts of anarchist violence occurred in Italy, France, Belgium, Spain, Portugal, Switzerland, Britain, Germany, Austria-Hungary, Russia, the United States, Sweden, Denmark, Argentina, Australia, and perhaps Turkey.

4. Ira Plotkin, Anarchism in Japan: A Study of the Great Treason Affair 1910-1911 (Lewiston/Queenston/Lampeter: Edwin Mellen, 1990).

5. See Peter Heehs, “Foreign Influences on Bengali Revolutionary Terrorism 1902-1908,” Modern Asian Studies 28, no. 3 (1994) and The Bomb in Bengal: The Rise of Revolutionary Terrorism in India 1900-1910 (Delhi: Oxford UP, 1993). Heehs emphasizes the indigenous sources of Bengali terrorism. While the Indian terrorists were not interested in anarchist ideology, they may have picked up some bomb-making techniques from them. More influential were the organizational models of the non-anarchist Russian revolutionaries. See Michael Silvestri, “’The Sinn Feacutein of India’: Irish Nationalism and the Policing of Revolutionary Terrorism in Bengal,” Journal of British Studies 39 (October 2000), 465.

6. Times (London), 4 May 1908; a sample of other articles falsely linking Indian terrorism to European-style anarchism include “Indian Anarchism,” Times (12 February 1909), “The Methods of Indian Anarchism,” Times (16 February 1909), “The Attempted Assassination of Lord Hardinge,” Times (24 December 1912); “Kipling on the Manufacture of Indian Anarchists,” Spectator (London), 19 March 1910, 459-460, and many others.

7. Anna Geifman, Thou Shalt Kill: Revolutionary Terrorism in Russia, 1894-1917 (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1995), 125.

8. Geifman (see note 7 above), 131. The Russian anarchists, however, were not the first suicide bombers. In 1881, the members of the People’s Will who volunteered to try to assassinate Tsar Alexander II were aware that they might very well not survive the explosion: “the bombs’ effectiveness could be guaranteed within a radius of about a metre. It was essential, therefore, that they should be thrown very carefully and from a very close range. The assassin had not the slightest chance of escaping death or capture.” Franco Venturi, Roots of Revolution, trans. Francis Haskell (New York: Universal Library, 1960), 711-12.

9. Felice Orsini’s deadly attack on Napoleon III in January 1858, which killed eight people and injured 142, might seem to be an exception to this generalization. But Orsini’s aim was to assassinate Napoleon III, not kill the bystanders.

10. All the quotations in this paragraph are from Jensen, “The Evolution of Anarchist Terrorism” (see note 2 above), 160.

11. See my forthcoming book, The International Campaign against Anarchist Terrorism, where the documentation for much of this essay will be elaborated more fully.

12. Eugenio Florian, Trattato di Diritto Penale. 2: Introduzione ai delitti in ispecie delitti contro la sicurezza dello Stato (Milan, 1915), 2nd ed., 138-161; William Loubat, “De la legislation contre les anarchists au point de vue international,” Journal de droit international prive, 22 (1895), 1-22, and 23 (1896), 294-320. Criminal anarchy was defined as: “the doctrine that organized government should be overthrown by force or violence, or by assassination of the executive head or any of the executive officials of government, or by any unlawful means.” Sidney Fine, “Anarchism and the Assassination of McKinley,” American Historical Review 40, no. 4 (July 1955), 793-94.

13. Report of the administrative committee, secret official records of the Rome Conference (Rome: Imprimerie du ministegravere des affaires etrangegraveres, 1899), 122-23.

14. “Searching among Paterson Anarchists,” New York Times (1 August 1900), 1.

15. Katherine Cabates, “The Diplomatic Relations of the Major Powers in the International Zone of Tangier” (Master’s Dissertation, Georgetown University, 1954), 42, 46.

16. Policing World Society: Historical Foundations of International Police Cooperation (Oxford: University Press, 2002).

17. Corriere della Sera, 3-7, 25-26; 28 June 1906. The bombs found ca. 23 June 1906 were in a castle wall at Castelferretti, near Falconara.

18. Fiorenza Fiorentino, Ordine pubblico nell’Italia giolittiana (Rome: Carecas, 1978), 81-2.

19. Ibid. 92-3, 110-11, 118-19. Fiorentino (92-3) cites the 1911 case of Lelio Luzi, who may have been an agent provocateur, urging on a certain Umberto Adami, a fanatical admirer of Bresci, living in Zurich.

20. Domenico Farini, Diario di fine secolo, ed. Emilia Morelli (Rome: Bardi, 1961-62) 1:455.

21. Joaquin Romero Maura, “Terrorism in Barcelona and its Impact on Spanish Politics 1904-1909,” Past and Present 41 (December 1968), 172.

22. Ibid., 156-7.

23. Geifman (see note 7 above), 237-40; Jonathan Daly, The Watchful State: Security Police and Opposition in Russia 1906-1917 (Dekalb: Northern Illinois Press, 2004), 124-8.

24. Memorandum from Interior Minister (and beginning in 1903, Prime Minister) Giolitti to the Italian foreign minister, 12 May 1902. Series P: politica, 1891-1916. B.47; Italian Foreign Ministry [hereafter, IFM]; Giolitti to foreign minister, most confidential, Rome, 30 May 1904, Polizia internazionale, B. 35, IFM.

25. Marques de Lema (Madrid) to Spanish Ambassador (Berlin), 22 November 1913. Archivo Historico, Spanish Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Orden Publico, legajo 2753.

26. Department IIIb, Foreign Ministry, Berlin, 13 November 1913, German Central Archive, Berlin (Formerly Potsdam). Foreign Ministry, Band 3, n. 19, 35515.

27. Laqueur, The Age of Terrorism (Boston: Little, Brown, 1987), 121-7; Hoffman, Inside Terrorism (New York: Columbia University Press, 1999), 176-8.

28. See Jensen, “Criminal Anthropology and the Problem of Anarchist Terrorism in Spain and Italy,” Mediterranean Historical Review (December 2001), 31-44, and Mary Gibson, Born to Crime: Cesare Lombroso and the Origins of Biological Criminology (New York: Praeger, 2002).

29. Robert Kern, Red Years/Black Years. A Political History of Spanish Anarchism, 1911-1937 (Philadelphia: Institute for the Study of Human Issues, 1978), 74; Gerald Brennan, The Spanish Labyrinth (Cambridge: University Press, 1971), 73-4; George Woodcock, Anarchism (New York: New American Library, 1962), 379.

30. A few symbolic anarchist attacks, which might be qualified as terrorism, also occurred during the Primo de Rivera dictatorship, i.e., the November 6-7, 1924, attacks on the Atarazanas prison in Barcelona and the Vera de Bidasoa frontier station. Kern (see note 29 above), 66; Murray Bookchin, The Spanish Anarchists: The Heroic Years 1868-1936 (Oakland, CA: AK Press, 1997), 191.

31. For the details of the anarchist deeds, see Paul Avrich, Sacco and Vanzetti: The Anarchist Background (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1991), 99-103, 137-162.

32. Jensen, “The Evolution of Anarchist Terrorism,” (see note 2 above), 157.

33. Ibid., 205-205; Nunzio Pernicone, “Luigi Galleani and Italian Anarchist Terrorism in the United States,” Studi Emigrazione 30 (September 1993), 469.

34. New York Times (26 January 1923), 19.

35. Osvaldo Bayer, Los anarquistas expropriadores (Buenos Aires: Planeta, 2003), 11-88.

36. For the anarcho-bolsheviks, see Kern (note 29 above), 54, 56.

37. Annuaire de l’Institut de Droit International, 12 (1892-94), 167.

38. Unfortunately Bogdan Zlataric, “History of International Terrorism and its Legal Control,” in International Terrorism and Political Crimes, ed. M. Cherif Bassiouni (Springfield: Charles Thomas, 1975), 480, omits “toute ” in his translation of “toute organization sociale.” Cf. Ve Conference Internationale pour l’unification du droit penal (Madrid, 14-20 October 1933). Actes de la conference (Paris: A. Pedone, 1935), 335.

39. Zlataric (see note 38 above), 483.

40. In a speech given last November and in an article, Professor James Gelvin of the University of California at Los Angeles has produced the most detailed comparison to date. He also cites eight other authors, from a writer in The Economist to Niall Ferguson, who briefly allude to these alleged similarities. and “Al-Qaeda and Anarchism: A Historian’s Reply to Terrorology,” Terrorism and Political Violence, 20, no. 4 (2008), 563-581.

41. Jensen, “Daggers” (see note 2 above), 116-117.

42. Daggers and pistols were more effective tools of assassination than bombs, although the latter proved more lethal for the innocent bystanders, as in the case of the 1906 attack on Spanish King Alfonso XIII.

43. Francesco Polti, an eighteen-year-old shop assistant who was involved in a plan to blow up the Royal Exchange in London and Luigi Lucheni. It seems likely that Lucheni, who had loyally served in the Italian army and subsequently worked as a servant for his aristocratic officer, became an anarchist after he emigrated to Switzerland where he mixed with anarchists and radicals. After his arrest in 1898, however, Lucheni claimed that he had been an anarchist at heart from an early age.

44. This analysis is based on my own compilation. For one of the most complete listings of anarchist attentats, see: or

45. Rapoport, “The Four Waves of Modern Terrorism,” in Audrey Kurth Cronin and James M. Ludes, editors, Attacking Terrorism: Elements of a Grand Strategy (Washington, D.C.: Georgetown University Press, 2004), 46-73. Richard Bach Jensen, “Nineteenth Century Anarchist Terrorism: How Comparable to the Terrorism of al-Qaeda?” Terrorism and Political Violence, 20, no. 4 (2008), 589-596.

46. For details, see ibid.

47. Geifman (see note 7 above), 132.

48. For the details of the anarchist deeds, see Pernicone (note 33 above), 482-487, and Avrich (note 31 above), 99-103, 137-162.

49. “’Dance Macabre’: Problems in the History of Terrorism,” presented at a conference on “What Can and Cannot Be Learned From History about Terrorism: A Dialogue between Historians and Social Scientists,” the Human Factors Division, Science and Technology Directorate, Department of Homeland Security, Arlington, Virginia, June 15-16, 2007. This paper was published as “Ordinary Terrorism in Historical Perspective,” Journal for the Study of Radicalism 2, no. 1 (2008), 125-154.

About @ndy

I live in Melbourne, Australia. I like anarchy. I don't like nazis. I enjoy eating pizza and drinking beer. I barrack for the greatest football team on Earth: Collingwood Magpies. The 2024 premiership's a cakewalk for the good old Collingwood.
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3 Responses to The International Campaign Against Anarchist Terrorism, 1880-1930s (Richard Bach Jensen)

  1. @ndy says:

    The Anti-Anarchist Conference of Rome, 1898

    In the final decade of the 19th century, violent incidents inspired by radical political ideas shook the foundations of established autocratic regimes in Europe and accelerated international police activities with political objectives. It was partly in response to this “Decade of Regicide” —to borrow a term from historian Richard Jensen (2001:16)— that new attempts were made to establish international police cooperation with wide international representation in a form that would overcome difficulties relating to national sovereignty. Though in most respects these attempts were to be unsuccessful, they also signaled an important transformation in the history of international police cooperation, the impact of which would become clear during the first half of the 20th century.

    The 1890s witnessed a revival of anarchist activities and, in response, police actions directed at suppressing them (Jensen 2001; Liang 1992:155-163). In the course of the decade, alleged anarchist incidents led to 60 killings and the wounding of some 200 people. Between March 1892 and June 1894, eleven bombing incidents killed nine people in Paris alone. In 1893, police from France intercepted news about plans to assassinate Emperor Wilhelm II and Chancellor Caprivi of the German Empire and passed the information on to Berlin police. That same year, following bombings in Paris and Barcelona, negotiations were held between the French and Spanish governments to establish an international police organization against anarchism. But although authorities from England, Austria, and the German Empire indicated interest to join the plan, it never came to fruition. Other anti-anarchist police measures were restricted to bilateral agreements. In 1898, for instance, French and Italian police exchanged information through their respective consulates about the possible connections between a bombing in Milan, a bank robbery in Paris, and a case of dynamite theft in Switzerland. On September 10, 1898, Empress Elisabeth of Austria was murdered by the Italian anarchist Luigi Lucheni, further intensifying concerns over the anarchist menace. A week after the assassination, the Austrian foreign minister, Goluchowsky, proposed to his Swiss colleague to form an anti-anarchist ‘International Police League.’ The Austrian-Swiss plan remained unexecuted, but few weeks later, on September 29, 1898, the Italian government sent out invitations for an international conference to be held in Rome in order to organize the fight against anarchism.

    The ‘International Conference of Rome for the Social Defense Against Anarchists’ was held from November 24 to December 21, 1898, and was attended by 54 delegates from no less than 21 European countries, including all major powers such as Great Britain, the German Empire, France, and Austria-Hungary (see Jensen 1981; Fijnaut 1979:930-933; Liang 1992:163-169). The gathering was mostly attended by government representatives, but also present were police officials from the participating countries. The Conference delegates discussed the formulation of an appropriate concept of anarchism, legislative measures against anarchism, and the development of international anti-anarchist police measures. The British government was the sole dissenter in signing a final protocol that was drafted at the meeting (Public Record Office [hereafter: PRO], FO 881/7372). In the protocol, anarchism was defined as any act “having as its aim the destruction, through violent means, of all social organization” (PRO, FO 45/784). The protocol’s other resolutions included the introduction of legislation in the participating countries to prohibit the illegitimate possession and use of explosions, membership in anarchist organizations, the distribution of anarchist propaganda, and the rendering of assistance to anarchists. It was also agreed that governments should try to limit press coverage of anarchist activities and that the death penalty should be mandatory punishment for all assassinations of heads of state.

    On matters of practical policing, the protocol from the Rome Conference included provisions to encourage participating governments to have police keep watch over anarchists, to establish in every participating country a specialized surveillance agency to achieve this goal, and to organize a system of information exchange among these national agencies. Furthermore, the countries that signed the final Conference protocol agreed to adopt the ‘portrait parlé’ method of criminal identification. A more sophisticated version of the bertillonage system invented by Alphonse Bertillon, the portrait parlé (spoken picture) was a method of identification that classified criminal suspects on the basis of measurements of parts of their head and body. Bertillonage measurements were expressed in numbers, which could be transmitted across nations by means of telephone and telegraph. Additionally, the Conference also approved a provision to extradite persons who had attempted to kill or kidnap a sovereign or head of state. The provision was referred to as the ‘attentat’ (assassination) clause or Belgian clause and had first been introduced in Belgium in 1856 following a failed attempt to murder Napoleon III in 1854.

    In November 1901, Russian authorities used the assassination of U.S. President McKinley by an anarchist in September of that year as a basis to revive the anti-anarchist program of the Rome Conference. Co-sponsored by the German government, Russian officials sent out a memorandum to hold an international meeting on anarchism to the governments of various European countries as well as the United States. The initiative led to a second anti-anarchist meeting, held in March 1904 in St. Petersburg, then the capital of Russia, where the representatives of ten countries, including Germany, Austria-Hungary, and Denmark, agreed upon a ‘Secret Protocol for the International War on Anarchism’ (Jensen 1981, 2001). The agreement was later also adhered to by the governments of Portugal and Spain. While France and Great Britain did not sign the St. Petersburg Protocol, the authorities of these countries did express their willingness to provide assistance with other states on police matters relating to anarchism. The United States government did not participate in the St. Petersburg meeting and declined to follow its provisions, although President Theodore Roosevelt had called for an international treatise to combat anarchism after the assassination of his predecessor.

    Sauce : Deflem, Mathieu. 2005. “’Wild Beasts Without Nationality’: The Uncertain Origins of Interpol, 1898-1910.” Pp. 275-285 in The Handbook of Transnational Crime and Justice, edited by Philip Reichel. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications.

    See also : The United States, International Policing and the War against Anarchist Terrorism, 1900–1914, Richard Bach Jensen, Terrorism and Political Violence, Vol.21, No.1 January 2009 [PDF] | Anarchism and State Violence in Sydney and Melbourne, 1886-1896: An argument about Australian labor history, Bob James, 1986.

  2. Pingback: Informal Anarchist Federation // Federazione Anarchica Informale | slackbastard

  3. Pingback: Anarchy ~versus~ State Terror | slackbastard

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