Wednesday, May 18, 2022

I Think It Bears Discussion


Whenever there's a "lone wolf" mass shooting or terror-type attack, especially if it has a racial component, I come across at least a few references to the concept of "leaderless resistance."

That's unsurprising, as the concept was popularized within the white supremacist movement by former Ku Klux Klan muckety-muck Louis Beam in the 1980s (the specific term actually originated in the 1950s with former military intelligence officer and "private intelligence firm" operator Ulius Louis Amoss as a Cold War tactic to get around the problem of CIA operatives operating on a hierarchal/organizational model that required being, or reporting to, "leaders" getting betrayed/captured/killed).

What I don't see are many references to another, earlier phenomenon: The "propaganda of the deed" associated with anarchists of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Quoth Mikhail Bakunin: "We must spread our principles, not with words but with deeds, for this is the most popular, the most potent, and the most irresistible form of propaganda."

The most famous (in America, anyway) example of propaganda of the deed was the assassination of US president William McKinley in 1901.

Abroad,  the attempted assassination of Tsar Alexander III was one of many attacks on the "nobility," political officials, even just "bourgeois institutions," but possibly the most historically impactful. It was carried out by a group (Narodnya Volya) rather than by a "lone wolf," and their leading ideologue and bomb-maker, one Aleksandr Ulyanov, was arrested and hanged. That seems to have been the main trigger for his younger brother's political aspirations. Young Vladimir Ulyanov is today mostly remembered under a different name, Lenin.

In terms of intention, acts like the Buffalo shooting strike me less as "resistance" of any kind than as propaganda of the deed. Payton Gendron didn't plan and carry out an action or series of actions that would materially advance his goals, at least by very much.  He planned and carried out an action with the main goal, so far as I can tell, of calling attention to his manifesto.

As an anarchist myself, I can see why anarchists would find the parallel discomforting. But I still think it's pertinent.


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