Terrorism is now associated primarily with either Islamist extremism or far right nationalism: it was once a tool of Communists.
WWI came to an end a little more than a century ago and with it ended three vast empires: the Austro-Hungarian, the Ottoman, and, a little earlier, the Tsarist regime in Russia. That last one was replaced, of course, by Communism which then held sway for 70 years in the form of the Soviet Union and its vassals.
Despite the writings of a few clueless Westerners – Joseph Stalin called them ‘useful idiots’ – the Soviet Union was neither a ‘worker’s paradise’ nor a very nice place to live. Economic disaster notwithstanding, the Soviet orbit – later to include Eastern Europe after WWII – was a very violent society. We hear a lot of the purges of the 1930s and the Great Famine in Ukraine of those years (the Holodomor) but in truth the whole social experiment was brutal.
We hear a lot of the purges of the 1930s and the Great Famine in Ukraine of those years but in truth the whole social experiment was brutal.
We also forget that Communists would use violence, either themselves or through proxies, to try to jump start revolutions in other countries. These acts, many of which took place decades ago, should be categorised as terrorism as they are clearly political or ideological in nature.
1920 Bombing of Romanian Senate
One such act occurred on this day in 1920 when a bomb went off in the Romanian Senate, killing the Romanian Minister of Justice and two other Romanian senators. The President of the Senate was also severely wounded in the attack.
The plot was executed by a Jewish Communist anarchist (recall that anarchist attacks were the hallmark of David Rapoport’s ‘wave theory’ of terrorism) named Max Goldstein. This early terrorist had attempted several other acts before the Senate bombing and lost an arm during one experiment with explosives, replacing the limb with a ‘pirate hook’.
Leftover bombs from WWI
Goldstein had improvised a timed device using two German bombs left over from WWI, and placed it under the Senate tribune during the night. The intent of the attack was to ignite a Communist Revolution in Romania. As a result of the incident Communism was officially banned in the country through what was called the 1924 “Mârzescu Law” which assigned the death penalty for “communist propaganda”.
Goldstein escaped after the Senate bombing but planned other ones, was arrested and sentenced to life in prison and died of pneumonia in 1925. During his trial he did not express regret for the Senate attack — on the contrary, he was proud of it, considering a “great professional achievement”.
Nevertheless, despite the early failure to cement communism in the 1920s Romania eventually did go down that path. The country later fell under the control of the Soviet Union and would not cast of the yoke of communism until 1989 with the riveting uprising against the Ceaucescu family over Christmas that year.
Could we then say that the anarchist bombings achieved their goal?
Not immediately but eventually. Other revolutions also succeeded after initial defeats (Adolf Hitler’s rise to power in Germany comes to mind). As the Chinese proverb says “a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step”.
What is also of interest to me is the nature of political violence in the aftermath of WWI. The aforementioned anarchist wave ceded to the ‘anti-colonialist’ one in Rapoport’s framework. The relief at the termination of ‘the war to end all wars’ was short-lived (after all WWII broke out less than twenty years later) and a series of violent movements seeking independence from colonial rule arose.
I am fairly certain that acts of terrorism associated with this wave will feature in this series. Stay tuned.