Revolution, Anarchism, and the Mob
ONE OF THE CENTRAL NARRATIVES OF THE ANARCHIST MOVEMENT IN Europe and the United States was the idea of "social revolution”— the complete overturning of outmoded institutions and customs which would create a clean slate on which a more just and natural society could be designed. This yearning for an ideal society, akin to a religious yearning for a paradise outside of history, was to be achieved (so anarchists thought) through anarchistic means: individual acts which would lead to a spontaneous revolt. The anarchistic practice of "propaganda by the deed” was envisioned as a means of educating people about the revolution and as the steps that could hasten it; most anarchists, however, thought that the revolution would come of its own accord, and all that was required of the anarchist movement was education.
The faith in an imminent revolution coincided with a larger social malaise that manifested itself in the cultural dialogue as a fear of social degeneracy or collapse. The details varied widely. For some, such as Henry James, the advent of democracy and commercialism spelled the end of the older aristocracy and its support of high culture, which he understood as the end of European "civilization.” Others saw society degenerating into disorder, either through advancing democratic principles, racial impurity, genetic atavism, or loosening moral standards. This narrative of decay, which was independent of the anarchist movement, reflected an eroding faith in cultural institutions in the wake of widespread cultural change. 1 Nevertheless, conservatives attacked anarchists as the symbol of this cultural fear, turning anarchists into a malevolent force outside of the cultural order, the face of the feared mob. This symbolic association replaced the voice of anarchists with the stereotype of the anarchist as a mad bomber, bent only on destruction. Although anarchists gained a measure of attention they could not have achieved otherwise, the fear of revolution ultimately marginalized anarchism and justified extreme repressive measures.