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Propaganda by the deed

Kenyon Zimmer

Subject History » Political History
Legal and Political » Political Philosophy

Period 1000 - 1999 » 1800-1899

Key-Topics political theory, revolution, terrorism, violence

DOI: 10.1111/b.9781405184649.2009.01221.x


First used in the 1870s to describe rural insurrections organized by Italian anarchists, in the 1880s and 1890s the term “propaganda by the deed” became linked to individual acts of assassination and terrorism. Though originally meant to precipitate revolution, these acts of revolt instead soon came to be understood as a means of publicizing their ideals and “awakening” the masses. Numerous historians link the rise of propaganda by the deed to the disintegration of anarchist organizations, increasing isolation from working-class movements, state persecution, and the growth of parliamentary socialism in this period. It was also closely related to the simultaneous emergence of anarchocommunism, alongside which it was endorsed by prominent anarchists like Errico Malatesta and Peter Kropotkin, and both doctrines were officially adopted at the International Anarchist Conference in London in 1881. That same year Russian populists assassinated Tsar Alexander II, an act that helped inspire a wave of anarchist violence that shook Europe and the Americas over the following decades. Anarchists carried out bombings in Germany, France, Spain, Italy, and elsewhere, at times devolving into cycles of retribution between anarchists and the authorities. The victims of anarchist assassins, meanwhile, included French President Sadi Carnot (1894), Spanish Prime Minister Cánovas Del Castillo (1897), ... log in or subscribe to read full text

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