43 Anarchism with violence

At the end of the nineteenth century, many anarchists had become convinced that only ‘propaganda of the deed’ would bring capitalism to its knees. At the centre of this photo assembly is Ravachol (François Koenigstein, 1859-1892), who following harsh action against Paris anarchists blew up a police station; at the left is Auguste Vaillant (1861-1894), who avenged Ravachol by throwing a bomb in the Chamber of Deputies in 1893; at the right is Emile Henry (1872-1894), who detonated a bomb at a station café. All died at the guillotine.

Auguste Vaillant, Ravachol, Emile Henry

Auguste Vaillant, Ravachol, Emile Henry
Geneva, 1894
Composite photograph, 11 x 7



The history of "propaganda of the deed"

The expression “propaganda of the deed” was first used in an unsigned article in the Bulletin  de la Fédération jurassienne de l’Association internationale des Travailleurs (8 May 1877). It referred to several acts of protest, most notably the failed uprising in the Italian district Matese organized by Errico Malatesta and Carlo Cafiero of the Italian section of the AIT in 1877. This uprising was intended to serve as an act of propaganda that would be more eloquent than oral or written forms. Thus, the expression “propaganda of the deed” was not at first coined to refer to acts of terrorism against the state or the bourgeoisie. It was only in the following years that it acquired that connotation. In 1892 Malatesta spoke out against the recent terrorist attack by Ravachol. Joining Malatesta, the anarchistic writer Octave Mirbeau condemned Henry’s attack on the Café Terminus in 1894,  expressing the view of the anarchists, in the view of Jean Maitron, the historian of French anarchism. Mirbeau added: «C’est une mode, aujourd’hui, chez les criminels, de se réclamer d’elle [i.e. anarchism], quand ils ont perpétré un beau coup…» (quoted by Jean Maitron, Histoire du mouvement anarchiste en France (1880-1914), Paris: 1951, p 227).