6. The Unity of All Terrorism(s)
In lieu of an abstract, here is a brief excerpt of the content:

141 6 The Unity of All Terrorism(s) In their exhaustive reference work Political Terrorism (revised in 2005), the social scientists Alex P. Schmid and Albert J. Jongman accord some worth to belles lettres and list Fyodor Dostoevsky’s novel Demons in their bibliography on the etiology of terrorism.1 This presents the student of terrorism, history, or Dostoevsky with a curious difficulty. Given that Schmid and Jongman acknowledge the absence of a consensus definition of terrorism—they devote the first chapter to the definitional problem—and given that by their best shot at a definition, “terrorism” had not come into historical existence as of Demons’ writing,2 what exactly do we find the etiology of in Demons? The short answer is that a typology, such as J. Bower Bell’s, may be of more use in describing and analyzing phenomena on the ground in Demons than a blanket definition that presumes to know in advance what a thing is based on what the word means.3 And as Demons has long been viewed as portraying a menagerie of (often fantastical) revolutionary types, it only makes sense that it would also present a menagerie of types of political violence. Yet why any of these species of political violence should be seen as belonging to the same genus, terrorism, is not immediately obvious, either from the typologies of social scientists or from Dostoevsky’s novel. I will argue here that in Demons Dostoev­sky identifies the missing link—what it is that makes seemingly disparate 142 Part Two: Apparitional Terrorism in Demons types of violence by different social actors both political and terrorism— and draws this as a major thematic thread through the novel. As we have seen, terror/ism in the novel is both actualized on the level of plot and presented purely discursively, through characters in conversation or by the narrator in his tropes. With the caveat that no act of violence in the novel is unambiguously political and each act is performed by agents acting according to their own intentions, the most obvious act of “terrorism” (and I use the word in quotes to signal the tentativeness, as well as the anachronism, of the designation) is Ivan Shatov’s murder by Peter Verkhovensky and Co. The murder of Peter’s own hired gun, Fedya, by Peter or on Peter’s orders, may certainly also be counted as organizational terror, but also as simple personal vengeance . However, the murders of the Lebyadkins, which Peter instigates and Fedya executes (with tacit encouragement from Stavrogin), have no obvious place in Bowyer Bell’s typology.4 This alerts us to the fact that categorization by typology must rely on a fair amount, and flexibility , of interpretation. We may conjecture that the Lebyadkins’ murder had more than one purpose: to reel in the aloof Stavrogin and in conjunction with the fires in Zarechye, to create chaos and panic and therewith the general sense of “shaking foundations.” Bowyer Bell’s typology offers only “allegiance terror”—“a less restrained variant of organizational terror . . . in order to create mass support” —as an uneasy fit. In the jargon of Dostoevsky’s time, “agitational terrorism” might better express the notion that acts of violence could unleash or galvanize hitherto dormant revolutionary forces. On the level of plot, we also find state terror, although Dostoevsky uses Gogolian satire with great effect to take the sting out of the violent repression, at the orders of Governor von Lembke, of the Shpigulin factory workers. By contrast, the terror of the revolution in power, which exists only on the novel’s discursive plane in Shigalyov’s notorious dystopia and Lyamshin’s even more horrifying travesty of it, is so ruthlessly total that it anticipates the scourges of the twentieth century: totalitarianism and genocide. Back on the non-state side of the ledger, we find the scourge of the twenty-first century—insurgent mass casualty terrorism. This, too, exists only on the discursive plane, in the hyperbolic tropes that the narrator uses to describe the crowd’s reaction to events as they unfolded at Yulia von Lembke’s ill-fated fête. This catalogue of violence, sorted so far as possible with the help of Bowyer Bell’s typology, immediately casts into relief the diversity of the phenomena in question and the range in scale, means, perpetrators, The Unity of All Terrorism(s) 143 victims, and purposes. The question then becomes: what allows us, other than the anachronistic application of linguistic convention, to...


pdf

Subject Headings

  • Russian literature -- Political aspects.
  • Terrorism -- Russia -- History -- 19th century.
  • Terrorism in literature.
  • Alexander II, Emperor of Russia, 1818-1881 -- Assassination.
  • Dostoyevsky, Fyodor, 1821-1881 -- Political and social views.
  • You have access to this content
  • Free sample
  • Open Access
  • Restricted Access