Pacifism, Nonviolence, and the Reinvention of Anarchist Tactics in the Twentieth Century

By Benjamin Pauli

This article highlights the ways in which anarcho-pacifists in the years during and after World War II reconceptualized anarchist tactics like “propaganda of the deed” and “direct action” in a manner that reconciled them with principles of nonviolence. In order to contextualize this extraordinary shift of emphasis within the anarchist movement, I trace the history of anarchism and violence from Bakunin’s involvement with the League of Peace and Freedom to the use of indiscriminate terror in the 1890s, demonstrating that the logic of anarchist tactics of social change was undermined by the use of violence. I then show how anarchists in the 1930s and 1940s appropriated the Gandhian idea of “revolutionary nonviolence,” using it to reinterpret tactics that were typically assumed to involve violence. Finally, I examine the ways in which nonviolent versions of propaganda of the deed and direct action factored into the anti-nuclear movement in Britain and the United States.


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