Academic journal article Canadian Journal of History

Worlds of Western Anarchism and Syndicalism: Class Struggle, Transnationalism, Violence and Anti-Imperialism, 1870s-1940s

Academic journal article Canadian Journal of History

Worlds of Western Anarchism and Syndicalism: Class Struggle, Transnationalism, Violence and Anti-Imperialism, 1870s-1940s

Article excerpt

The French Anarchists in London, 1880-1914: Exile arid Transnationalism in the First Globalisation, by Constance Bantman. Liverpool, Liverpool University Press, 2013. 256 pp. $99.95 US (cloth).

The Knights Errant of Anarchy: London and the Italian Anarchist Diaspora (1880-1917), by Pietro Di Paola. Liverpool, Liverpool University Press, 2013. 256 pp. $99.95 US (cloth).

The Haymarket Conspiracy: Transatlantic Anarchist Networks, by Timothy Messer-Kruse. Urbana, Chicago, Springfield, University of Illinois Press, 2012. ix, 236 pp. $30.00 US (paper), $85.00 US (cloth).

Black Flag Boricuas: Anarchism, Authoritarianism and the Left in Puerto Rico, 1897-1921, by K.R. Schaffer. Urbana, Chicago and Springfield, University of Illinois Press, 2013. 240 pp. $65.00 US (cloth).

Many political movements--anarchism included--have draped themselves in the clothes of antiquity, by imagining a historical lineage fading back into the mists of history. Anarchism is, in fact, a younger movement than Marxism: an integral part of modern socialism, it "emerged as an active political movement within the First International" (or International Workingmen's Association), a coalition of unions, political groups and clubs, and cooperatives that ran from 1864-1877 (Bantman pp. 1, 7-8).

From the 1890s into the 1920s, it was in many contexts the dominant force on the revolutionary left, with a substantial impact on unions, popular culture and anti-imperialist movements worldwide. Even outside of this "glorious period," anarchism and its union offshoots, anarcho- and revolutionary syndicalism, was (and is) an important current. (1) Its initial rise coincided, and not accidentally, with the first modern globalization of the 1880s to the 1910s, a period characterized by massive international flows of labour and capital, a transportation and telecommunications revolution, and the rapid spread of industrialization.

Anarchism was a global movement not only in aspiration; in practice too, it was global and transnational. Migration--both voluntary and forced (due to persecutions)--and a widely circulating press facilitated the exchange of ideas, struggle repertoires and key militants, which in turn linked and created international activist communities. Stereotypes of an action-first outlook notwithstanding, the movement "had an intensely bookish culture" stressing publication, theory, and debate (Bantman p. 20).

Repression, aimed at suppressing radical ideas and formations, including the First International, often had the opposite effect, as exiles spread their ideas abroad and developed, debated and applied these ideas in different contexts on their travels. One effect was the massive dissemination of radical ideas in Europe and abroad: Italian anarchists, for example, were active in the Balkans, the Middle East and North Africa, West Europe, and both Americas (Di Paolo p. 3). Exile enriched radicalism, and many ideas were developed, even forged, abroad. Thus exile exerted a "remarkable influence on the development of socialist ideas in Italy and in other countries" (Di Paola p. 2), and proved "very fruitful" despite the pressures and frustrations that exile inevitably brought (Bantman p. 73).

A growing literature continues to shed new light on this historical and contemporary current that--despite its importance--remains strikingly under-researched. The four books under review are part of the welcome recent upsurge in research. A core part of three of the volumes under consideration centres on the operations of international anarchist and syndicalist networks as they emerged in the context of this increased radicalism. Di Paola and Bantman focus on anarchist exile communities--Italian and French respectively--in late nineteenth- and early twentieth-century London, where relatively tolerant British immigration and political asylum policies enabled the flourishing of a range of overlapping, polyglot radical milieus. …

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