Leftist Violence Comes to America, a Historical Perspective
The 19th century in Europe was marked by growing leftists movements, which attempted several short-lived revolutions throughout the continent. While these leftist risings failed, a new left-wing extremist movement, the Anarchists, grew out of them.
The word itself comes from a Greek word, anarkos, which means “without a chief.” Anarchists believe that all government should be abolished, and that voluntary cooperation, rather than force, should be society’s organizing principle. To bring about such change, anarchists argued that violent actions, rather than words, were the best way to spread ideas. They called this tactic “Propaganda of Deed”. What it meant in practice was terrorism and targeted assassinations of political leaders.
In 1881 an organization of Russian leftist/anarchists calling themselves the “People’s Will”, targeted Czar Alexander II, the “Russian Abraham Lincoln”.
Alexander, ironically, had freed the Russian serfs and reformed the Russian judicial system, introducing trial by jury. He also granted the Russian territory of Finland greater autonomy, with plans to completely free the Finns.
That Alexander II was an enlightened ruler and gave monarchy a good face made him particularly odious to the Left.
On March 13, 1881, members of the anarchist Narodnaya Volya (“People’s Will”) ambushed and murdered the Czar in the streets of St. Petersburg; throwing a bomb under the Czar’s carriage.
Again ironically, the day before his death Alexander had completed a draft creating an elected parliament, the Duma.
The assassination of Alexander II was just the beginning of leftist-anarchist terror attacks and murders.
In 1905, Czar Alexander’s son and uncle of the (then) reigning Czar Nicholas II, Grand Duke Sergei, was also targeted and assassinated by the Socialist Revolutionary Party’s “Combat Organization”.
Even more despicably, in July of 1918 his widow Grand Duchess Elisabeth, who had become a nun after her husband’s murder, was also murdered by the Bolsheviks. Elisabeth, along with other members of Russian aristocratic families and her fellow nuns, was herded into an abandoned mineshaft; into which grenades were then hurled.
An observer heard them singing Church hymns to the end; even for some time after the explosions. The last thing Elizabeth did as she lay dying in the mineshaft was to bandage the wounds of Prince Ioann with her own handkerchief.
Anarchist assassins had a successful (from their viewpoint) run at murdering Heads of State in the last decade leading-up to and into the 20th century.
In 1894, anarchists assassinated the President of France, Marie-Francois Sadi Carnot. In 1900, King Umberto I of Italy was gunned down by an American-Italian anarchist. Then, in 1901, socialist/anarchist Leon Czolgosz, shot to death President William McKinley.
Europe’s far-left, violent ideology had come to America.
In the last decades of the 19th century, a wave of German and Eastern European immigrants came to America. They brought with them the doctrines of Marx and Engels; trade/labor unions; and anarchism. They brought also the violence the left had exhibited in Europe.
Chicago became the epicenter of the American far-left in the late 19th century. As early as 1875 Leftist education and defense organizations (Lehr und Wehr Vereine) were set-up there, and they soon spread to other cities. Members met regularly and drilled with arms. These militant leftist clubs caused a split in the socialist community; with the violent factions joining the anarchists.
The American Left held a convention in Pittsburgh in 1883, dominated by Johann Most, a German-born revolutionary who had served prison terms in a number of countries. Most had come to the United States in December 1882, and transferred his journal, Freiheit, to New York. Through the spoken and written word he became the leader of the left-wing anarchists in the United States and the leading figure of the predominantly immigrant socialists.
In typically Socialist fashion, the congress explained that since all institutions are aligned against him, the worker has a right to arm himself for self-defense and offense. The congress noted that no ruling class ever surrendered its privileges; and urged organization for planning and carrying out rebellion. “Capitalists will not leave the field except by force”.
Throughout the 1880s and 90s, Anarchists were active in union organizations; which were regarded by them as the ideal type of workmen’s societies. Albert Parsons, August Spies, and Samuel Fielden, all of them defendants in the Haymarket Trial, had close connections with a part of the Chicago labor movement.
On May 4, 1886, Chicago was the scene of a violent confrontation between the fledgling leftist labor movement and the Chicago authorities. A labor demonstration in Haymarket Square was broken up by police. As the police moved in, anarchists hurled a bomb (one of some 50 bombs subsequently found stored in Nepf’s Hall, a labor union facility). About 60 officers were wounded in the incident, along with an unknown number of civilians. In all, eight policemen and at least four workers were killed. The Haymarket Massacre galvanized public opinion throughout the country against anarchism and was a setback for the American labor movement.
1887 saw labor strikes and riots throughout the Mid-West and Northeastern states. Federal troops had to be called out to help local police contain the rioters. Many of the country’s railroads were shut down for long periods of time, at great cost to the economy.
The 1890s saw violent mine, factory, and railroad strikes; that were only put down by Federal troops or the use of Pinkerton “detectives”. While violence was often began by the strikers (destroying owner’s property and attacking “scab” replacement workers), the response by the authorities was at times disproportionate.
Labor violence became a common theme in American industrial life. Researchers Philip Taft and Philip Ross exhaustively documented this in their study, “American Labor Violence: Its Causes, Character, and Outcome“; concluding that America has the most historically violent labor movement in the world. A large part of the blame for this sits solidly with its Chicago far-left anarchist founders.
In the 1960s, the New Left began organizing and agitating in American cities and across college campuses throughout the country. Violence soon manifested itself, as a myriad of small, fringe groups became active.
Here is a small sampling of ‘60s radical groups:
In 1969, Bill Ayer’s Weather Underground was founded. It grew out of the campus radical group, Students for a Democratic Society (SDS), and particularly its Revolutionary Youth Movement faction. The “Weathermen’s” avowed purpose was to bring about the violent overthrow of the American government. In May 21, 1970, the Weathermen issued a Declaration of War against the United States; this following a two year campaign of bombings and instigated riots.
Aside from Ayers, its members included: Karen Ashley, Bernardine Dohrn, John Jacobs, Jeff Jones, Gerry Long, Howie Machtinger, Jim Mellen, Terry Robbins, Mark Rudd, and Steve Tappis. (Many of these are now involved with the Democrat Party; Ayer’s in particular, a former friend and supporter of Barack Obama.)
Another violent Leftist group to grow up in the turbulent 1960s was The Black Liberation Army (BLA). A splinter group from the Black Panthers (BPP), its stated goal was one of “armed struggle”; to “take up arms for the liberation and self-determination of black people in the United States.” The BLA is credited with murdering 13 police officers (in ambush shootings) and over 60 acts of left-wing violence from 1970-1980.
In 1978, a new umbrella organization of far-left radicals was formed: the May 19th Communist Organization (M19CO). It was chiefly a combination of the Black Liberation Army and the Weather Underground. It also included members of the Black Panthers and the Republic of New Africa (RNA). They had three objectives: to free political prisoners held in American prisons, to use appropriation of capitalist wealth to fund the third stage, and to initiate a series of bombings and terrorist attacks. From its inception to the mid-1980s, the group is responsible for over a dozen violent attacks and bombings.
In 1981 in Nanuet, New York, the group (mostly the Weathermen and BLA members) robbed a Brinks armored truck containing $1.6 million. The robbery was violent, resulting in the murders of two police officers and a security guard.
Another of these splinter radical groups was the United Freedom Front (also called the Sam Melville/Jonathan Jackson Unit), a small American Marxist organization active in the 1970s and 1980s. It was responsible for 29 known robberies and bombings, carried out from October 4, 1975, to September 26, 1984. One of the members, Thomas Manning, was convicted of killing a New Jersey state trooper. It has been described as “undoubtedly the most successful of the leftist terrorists of the 1970s and 1980s”.
A notable moment in the history of Leftist violence in America occurred at a Marin County Hall of Justice on August 7, 1970. There, three convicts from San Quentin Prison were on trial for murdering a guard. All three were former Black Panthers and members of other radical left-wing groups. United Feedom Front’s Jonathan P. Jackson was the brother of “Soledad Brothers” defendant George Jackson. He planned an attack aimed at taking hostages and forcing the release of his brother and the other radicals awaiting trial.
At the courthouse, Jackson pulled weapons from a satchel he had brought into the court; and, with the help of three of the defendants, took the court hostage. The subsequent escape attempt ended in a bloody shootout. Jackson and two of his confederates were killed, as was the judge they had taken hostage. The District Attorney was shot and crippled for life.
Involved in the bloody incident was UCLA professor and communist Angela Davis. She was indicted for supplying the weapons used by Jackson in the courthouse takeover. Davis fled the state to avoid arrest; but was apprehended and arrested in New York.
Davis subsequently became a Left-wing celebrity.
In recent years, the drum-roll of leftist violence manifest itself most clearly in the anti-capitalist, anti-globalization movement.
On November 30,1999, at the World Trade Organization’s meeting in Seattle, WA, 40,000 angry “anti-capitalist“ leftist demonstrated in the streets. Around noon, black-clad anarchists among the demonstrators began smashing windows and vandalizing storefronts. Other protesters pushed dumpsters into the middle of intersections and lit them on fire, closing traffic and generally disrupting all commercial activity in downtown Seattle.
Over 600 people were subsequently arrested.
Such violent demonstrations against globalization ( focusing on the World Trade Organization, the International Monetary Fund, the G-8) and any other organization hateful to the left (such as the Republican Party) have become a normal facet of modern life. All follow the Seattle model, which always results in destruction of private property, personal assaults, and confrontation with police, and large numbers of arrests.
The IMF in particular has drawn the ire of the international Left. Demonstrations against the IMF have occurred in Berlin in 1988 ; Madrid in ’94; Washington, DC, in 2000 (678 arrests); and again in Washington in 2002 (649 arrests).
Labor Unions (particularly the Service Employees International Union, or SEIU) have been active in recent incidents of violence and intimidation. In May 2010, some 500 purple jacketed SEIU members arriving in buses in front of a bank executive’s home and held a raucous demonstration on his front lawn and porch. Only the banker’s 14 year old son was home, terrified by the sudden appearance of this angry mob.
Weekly, there are stories of leftwing demonstrators and incidents of violence and destruction of property. Part-and-parcel with the violent history of the Left.
The violent activities of Left-wing eco-terrorist groups, such as the Animal Liberation Front, Earth First, and the Earth Liberation Front should not be overlooked. They have set fire to homes and businesses on the West Coast since 1997. They have also burned down university buildings, car lots, government offices, and ski resorts. Spiking of trees in the forests of the Pacific Northwest has led to the injury and death of loggers.