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Have any anarchists seen themselves or other anarchists as martyrs? Any notable criticisms? What is implied by martyrology as a motivating force?
by (6.1k points)
I've been wanting to answer this question, but am wondering if you can say more about what you mean by martyrology? I think there are many anarchists who have both critiqued and embraced martyrdom, but i want to make sure I am answering what you are asking.
Yeah, i can see how that would be confusing given that "martyrology" is a word that already exists. What i meant was something like: the category of ideas associated with martyrdom, including the near-veneration of those killed during struggle and the willingness toward self-sacrifice.

1 Answer

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Yes. Many anarchists have seen themselves as and other anarchists as martyrs. An examination of the manner in which anarchists in the late 19th and 20th centuries (and still) talk about the Haymarket affair provides plenty of examples of elevating others to that level. When People talk of a willingness to die for the cause, the ideal, or whatever else you want to call it, I hear the language of martyrdom. Accepting that death could be a potential outcome of engaging in struggle is one thing, but to speak of it as if one who would not willingly run towards it is somehow not anarchist enough is, to be frank, just stupid.

The veneration of those who have been killed or executed carries in to modern times, Carlo Giuliani being one example, or the manner in which people sometimes speak of William “Avalon” Rogers. We tend to venerate those who die in struggle, making them almost beyond criticism. Which is not to say that the death of a comrade is something to be belittled, that we shouldn’t mourn, or that there isn’t much to respect about those who are killed fighting against what they hate, it just means that we should also not elevate them to saint-hood.
I also see a sort of martyrdom frequently in more activist-oriented anarchists, and certainly I have fallen prey to this myself at times. What I am talking about here is subsuming my own desires and pleasures for “the cause,” as if any cause beyond myself could be worth my subservience. It is a fine line, as I am not an outright egoist, and I am more than happy to compromise when it seems appropriate and suits my needs, but I have known many people who tend to act as though, if you aren’t willing to sacrifice everything of yourself for “the cause,” you are not truly down. There are two most often unspoken implications to this: 1. You are not as revolutionary as the individual making said statements, and 2. “The cause,” as defined by this individual is more important than whatever you might prioritize. The conclusion to be drawn from accepting this line of reasoning is that we all need to do more. Always.  At whatever personal cost.

This can be limiting to people unable to engage in the forms of struggle most often legitimized by people that adopt this kind of thinking. And that is bullshit.
by (22.1k points)
anarchist thought on martyrdom ranges the gamut, as ingrate acknowledges. the answers on this site are more likely to fall on the martyrdom-is-a-problem side of the fence, but i think it's a more interesting question than i normally give it space for.
anarchists (anyone who believes strongly in something that is not culturally acceptable) presumably give up things in order to be coherent with our beliefs. giving up of things is one way, and a valid way (not *the* valid way) to measure someone's commitment.
(in a christian-biased culture, sacrifice is a default paradigm.)

this leads me to the questions:
what are other ways to measure commitment?
at what point does that giving up become martyrish? is it only when it is one's life?
does rejecting the idea of giving something up really mostly allow us to pretend that we don't care about the things that we have given up?
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