Anarchism in Global Historical Perspectives: Concepts, Networks, and Communities in the Late 19th and Early 20th Centuries

AHA Session 202
Saturday, January 5, 2019: 1:30 PM-3:00 PM
Grant Park Parlor (Palmer House Hilton, Sixth Floor)
David T. Courtwright, University of North Florida
Carl Levy, Goldsmiths, University of London

Session Abstract

Anarchism is a global phenomenon. Libertarian ideas have been and are a thriving force—both theoretically and in action—for the imaginary and actual building of a better society. They conceptualize people living together in peace and individual freedom, working cooperatively and being bound together not by coercion, but rather by commitment and mutually shared interest. Anarchists significantly enriched theoretical debates on human agency and interaction, and actively created communal projects all around the world that were particularly prominent in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century. Yet, until today, the rich history of anarchism is often overlooked and/or limited to Eurocentric perspectives. Particularly extra-European actors, events and movements often simply exist as an appendix to a hegemonic European narrative of anarchism reducing them to merely copying ideas that allegedly originated in Europe.

On the contrary, as this panel demonstrates, anarchism as political thought and lived experience has always transgressed national, imperial and regional boundaries. Of course, prominent anarchist thinkers such as Bakunin, Goldman, Kropotkin, Malatesta, Proudhon, and Reclus, to name but a few, had a huge impact on the anarchist experience worldwide. They were important points of reference—but also of demarcation—for anarchist, anti-imperialist and anti-colonialist activists, movements and theorists all over the globe. Nevertheless, non-Western anarchists and other leftist radicals were much more than just passive recipients of European ideas. Early twentieth century radicals never lived in enclosed circles but shaped and progressed radical socio-political ideas and navigated in global networks. They created niches for social reformers, revolutionaries, and anti-imperialists to dodge state repression and escape modern capitalist society. Moreover, anarchist communes and networks were also significant hubs for the actual meeting of people across borders as well as cultural and religious boundaries to experiment with new forms of collective living and to construct new subjectivities. As both retreat and laboratory, anarchist communes oscillated between materialized and fantasized places, being simultaneously at the margin and the center of modern society.

The multiregional and interdisciplinary panel Anarchism in Global History Perspectives brings narratives on twentieth-century anarchism from different world regions into conversation. Presented papers will cover a variety of actors, communities and networks in and between many places in the world, ranging from Asia to Europe, Russia, and the Americas. They will address colonialism, Eurocentrism, imperialism, racism as well as other forms of oppression, and discuss how anarchist circles conceptualized, overcame and/or reproduced power and hierarchy themselves. Analyzing anarchism from a global history perspective thus enables us to approach the interplay of diversity, difference, and similarity in the modern world, and at the same time make visible manifold forms of translocal, indeed, world-spanning connections.

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