Abe Greenwald: The Return of Anarchism





[Abe Greenwald is the associate editor of Commentary and writes regularly for its blog Contentions.]

In late 2010, several organizations with mysterious names made impressive claims on the world’s attention. During a two-day period in the first week of November, more than a dozen parcel bombs arrived at embassies in Athens and at the offices of leading politicians in three European cities. Only one exploded, burning a mail handler, but European capitals went on high alert, and international mail to and from Greece was halted for 48 hours. Police soon arrested two suspects who were identified as members of a terrorist group called the Conspiracy of Fire Nuclei, with more to follow in the ensuing weeks.

In early December, an organization calling itself Anonymous launched disabling attacks on the websites of corporations that had ceased facilitating donations to the whistleblower group WikiLeaks. For the second time in a year, Anonymous slowed down or took offline the likes of Visa, Bank of America, PayPal, and Amazon, and even the sites of some institutions and public figures, such as Connecticut Senator Joseph Lieberman, who had come out strongly against WikiLeaks.

On December 23, two mail bombs exploded less than three hours apart, seriously injuring employees at the Swiss and Chilean embassies in Rome. The Informal Federation of Anarchists claimed responsibility and vowed future attacks to “destroy the systems of domination.” And on January 30 of this year, the Conspiracy of Fire Nuclei struck again, with an explosion at the Athens courthouse, where 13 of its members were scheduled to go on trial.

These real-world and cyberspace groups have more in common than names seemingly lifted from comic books. They are anarchists, and the headline-grabbing attacks at the end of last year are only part of a larger recent anarchist trend. According to the European police office, Europol, “Spain, Greece, and Italy reported a total of 40 attacks by left-wing and anarchist groups for 2009. This constitutes an increase of 43 percent compared to 2008; the number of attacks more than doubled since 2007.” The numbers didn’t include cyberattacks, and new numbers from 2010 aren’t in yet—but they are certain to show another spike.

Suddenly, then, an ideological philosophy and political movement that had been thought of as a dusty oddity, a relic of the late 19th century, has returned to the fore with enough consequence that Secretary of State Hillary Clinton recently denounced terrorism “whether it comes from the right, the left, from al-Qaeda, from anarchists, whoever it is.”

What accounts for the new appeal of anarchism?..


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