Published online by Cambridge University Press: 14 September 2009
‘Propaganda by deed’ is a political slogan which today tends to be associated specifically with isolated terrorist acts carried out by a few anarchists in the 1890s. In fact the concept developed in bakuninist circles in the 1870s and from the beginning tended to mean different things to different people.
It is possible that the original inspiration, certainly in the case of the Italians, came from the Neapolitan revolutionary Carlo Pisacan (1818–57). In his Testamento Politico (1857), he had written:
The propaganda by the idea is a chimera, the education of the people is an absurdity. Ideas result from deeds, not the latter from the former, and the people will not be free when they are educated, but will be educated when they are free. The only work a citizen can undertake for the good of the country is that of cooperating with the material revolution; therefore, conspiracies, plots, attempts, etc., are that series of deeds by which Italy proceeds to her goal.
The concept of propaganda by deed which developed in the seventies however did not go quite as far as this in rejecting oral and written propaganda.
Perhaps, therefore, it can be traced back more directly to Bakunin who in 1870 declared: ‘Now we all have to embark together on the revolutionary ocean, and henceforth spread our principles no longer by words but by deeds – for this is the most popular, the most powerful and the most irresistible form of propaganda.' In Spain, bakuninists involved in the risings of 1873 developed this idea. The following extract on revolutionary propaganda, written by Brousse, appeared in La Solidarité Révolutionnaire in Barcelona in July 1873.