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Author : Arif Dirlik

Author : Anthony Gorman

Author : Benedict Richard O'Gorman Anderson

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Text :

Rethinking Anarchism and Syndicalism:
The Colonial and Postcolonial Experience, 1870–1940

Lucien van der Walt
University of the Witwatersrand

Steven J. Hirsch
University of Pittsburgh-Greensburg

This volume examines the history, influence, aspirations, and actions of anarchism and syndicalism in the colonial and postcolonial world from the 1870s until the 1940s. By ‘colonial and postcolonial world’ we mean those regions of the world under the formal control of external powers, as well as the ex-colonies, that were ostensibly independent social formations, but remained subject to a significant degree to informal imperial power influenced by colonial legacies. The case studies presented in this volume are drawn from Africa, Asia, Latin America, and Eastern Europe (with the exception of Ireland).

Each of these case studies analyzes anarchism and syndicalism within a colonial or a postcolonial context. In other words, they situate their analyzes within the larger context of late 19th and early 20th century imperialism and globalization, from the 1870s into the 1930s. During this epoch, the first modern globalization, imperialist power increased substantially and coincided with a heretofore unprecedented revolution in communication and transportation technologies, international mass migration, and the emergence of a truly global economy, which in turn spread industrialization across the colonial and postcolonial world.

The regions and countries examined in this volume all had a history of colonialism, including China, dismembered from the late 19th. century. By the early 20th-century, Britain, France, Germany, Japan, Russia and the United States ruled 90 percent of Africa, 57 percent of Asia, a quarter of the Americas, around half of East and Central Europe, and all of Polynesia[6] The great powers also exercised immense indirect control over independent states and other polities in these regions, through the international state system, industrial investments, trade controls, and gunboat diplomacy.[7] Very often imperial capital either displaced or worked closely with the local bourgeoisie to maintain a highly unequal internal system of domination. Imperial capital also directed belated industrial change in subject territories in Europe, Africa, Latin America, and Asia.

In recognition of the globalized character of the world during this period, this volume seeks to understand how anarchism and syndicalism developed as transnational movements. To this end it focuses not only national and local contexts but on supranational connections and multidirectional flows of the ideas, people, finances, and organizational structures that gave rise to these movements. In this way, it transcends Eurocentric narratives and obviates the frequent tendency to view movements in the colonial and postcolonial world as mere imitations or extensions of European movements. Instead it carefully examines both the universal and particular history of anarchism and syndicalism as reflected in the ideas and culture, social composition, and character of each social movement.

At another level, this collection pays close attention to how anarchists and syndicalists engaged with imperialism, anti-colonial movements and the national question. By the national question, we have in mind both the challenge posed by the role of national and racial identities to working class movements, and the place of demands for national self-determination (and racial equality) in class struggles. The volume seeks, then, to recover the history of anarchist and syndicalist anti-imperialism—as it was manifest in both theory and practice. This is a vital history that has often been ignored, or dismissed, in many texts. The papers in this volume, however, demonstrate unequivocally that anarchism and syndicalism were important currents in anti-imperial, including anti-colonial, struggles in the late 19th and early-to-mid 20th centuries—and were, for most of this period, more important than their Marxist rivals.

The framing of this volume

In order to highlight this experience of imperialism and inequality, we have organized this volume around the framework of a “colonial and postcolonial world”, rather than the Cold War concept of a “Third World” (or its successor, the “Global South”). The “Third World” idea routinely excludes the colonial regions within Europe itself, despite obviously instructive parallels with African, Asian and other experiences.

The concept has also always been defined in negative, incoherent, and state-centric terms.[8] It originally signified countries outside the (“socialist”) East and the (“capitalist”) West—yet it was itself never defined by reference to its own economic system; it included “socialist” China and Cuba alongside overtly “capitalist” countries. It also signified newly independent, and supposedly nonaligned, “nations.” Typically, these states defined themselves as “anti-imperialist”—even when their ruling elites continued to collude with the great powers. Finally, it referred to those countries defined as undeveloped or underdeveloped, which implied the need for economic assistance from advanced nations. This last claim always elided the great deal of socio-economic variation within and between these countries, and the reality of substantial, even dramatic, growth and industrialization, signified by the meteoric rise of Newly-Industrializing Countries (NICs). The notion of a “colonial and postcolonial world” avoids these difficulties, while retaining the stress on the importance of imperialism invoked by the “Third World” idea.

The volume’s focus on the period 1870 to 1940 has been chosen both to capture an era of unmatched mass anarchist and syndicalist influence, and the distinctive economic, social and political processes that took place in that period. (The closure of this era, and its implications for the anarchists and syndicalists, will be considered in more depth in our closing chapter, “Final Reflections”).

The period was one of unprecedented increases in transoceanic and intra-continental migration, global economic integration, and imperial expansion, with the first genuinely global economy emerging by the 1870s.[9] From 1870 to 1914 world trade and output grew steadily, with major powers developing trade to gross domestic product ratios exceeding 35 percent.[10] By all measures, levels of integration matched and typically exceeded those of the late 20th century, and capital moved “quickly and pretty freely across existing national and imperial boundaries”.[11]

Jack London, a perceptive witness to these globalizing processes, expressed astonishment at the extraordinary “shrinkage of the planet”, which made the “East ... next-door neighbor to the West.”[12] Critical to this integration was European technical prowess, which led to the effective partition of the globe between a few great states by 1914.[13] British preeminence resulted in an empire incorporating a quarter of the world’s land and 800 million people in 1900.[14] The next imperial tier comprised modern powers like Austro-Hungary, Belgium, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the Netherlands, and the United States. Declining premodern empires, oscillating between modernization and dismemberment filled out the bottom imperial tier: China, Iran, Ottoman Turkey, Portugal, Russia, and Spain.

Such a world posed great opportunities as well as immense challenges for the class-centered anarchists and syndicalists. At one level, the very circuits and centers of imperialism, industrial capitalism, and state formation provided the nexus in which their nemesis, the anarchists and syndicalists, emerged. The first globalization’s unprecedented mobilizations of labor for industry and war spread radicalism and connected the radicals, its cheap communications via steamships, telegraphs and the penny press provided a means of continual contact, and its new industrial centers provided the mass recruits to the syndicalist unions.

The very experience of migration eroded insularity, and demonstrated the common experience of the popular classes the world over, giving the anarchist and syndicalist case for internationalist classstruggle the ring of truth. The routine brutality of states, both colonial and postcolonial, and the grim conditions in fields as well as factories, strengthened the case for radical anti-statism and anti-capitalism. The emerging power of unions and other mass movements, partly a reflection of the era’s mass concentrations of urban workers, convinced many that a revolutionary transformation of society was within reach.

Before V. I. Lenin, classical Marxists also lacked an effective approach to struggles in the colonial and postcolonial world (with the key exception of Eastern Europe).[15] Marxists in these regions were (where they existed), typically marginal, burdened with the doctrine that the material prerequisites for socialism were lacking, and a fixed commitment to legalistic reformism in contexts where few could vote. The rise of Bolshevism, with its distinctively anti-imperialist and militant posture, radically changed matters. Meanwhile, anarchists and syndicalists had inscribed a record of mass mobilization across the colonial and postcolonial world, and (see below) of anti-colonial struggle. With Bakunin, these revolutionaries envisaged the “completed and real emancipation of all workers, not only in some but in all nations, ‘developed’ and ‘undeveloped’ ”,[16] without supposedly necessary intermediate stages.

However, while industrialization, class formation and class conflict provided the social forces that the anarchists and syndicalists mobilized, and in which their programmatic flexibility and militancy could be activated, the contours of capitalism, the state and the popular classes were also profoundly shaped by imperialism. Thus, at another level, the colonial and postcolonial setting posed peculiar challenges to the revolutionary libertarian socialists: racial, regional, and national divisions among the working class and peasantry, as well as the rise of nationalism in the context of anti-imperialist movements.

National and racial identities, as movements like Zionism and Garveyism showed, could flow as easily via migrant and other networks as internationalist ones. Such sectional tendencies undercut internationalism, tended to become sharper as labor market competition intensified, and foreshadowed the world that followed the first modern globalization and the age of empire: the world of nation-states and economic nationalism, rooted in the 1920s and running into the 1990s (discussed further in the concluding chapter).

Anarchism and syndicalism

Although the term “anarchism” is often applied very loosely, this volume uses a narrow definition. The modern anarchist movement arose from the late 1860s in the context of an internationally expanding workers’ movement, linked together in the International Workingmen’s Association (or First International, 1864–1877).[17] Debates over the question of the state between Karl Marx and Mikhail Bakunin (1814–1876) were critical in establishing the anarchist current as a distinctive form of socialism. According to Piotr Kropotkin (1842–1921), the most important anarchist theorist after Bakunin, “modern anarchism” emerged “little by little in the Congresses of the great Association and later on among its successors,” giving birth to a mass working class and peasant movement.[18]

The core ideas of anarchism, as expressed by Bakunin and Kropotkin, are clear. Fiercely opposed to all forms of social and economic inequality and oppression, anarchism rejected capitalism, the state and hierarchy in general. A revolutionary and libertarian doctrine, anarchism sought the establishment of individual freedom through the creation of a cooperative, democratic, egalitarian and stateless socialist order. This would be established through the direct action of the working class and peasantry, waging an international and internationalist social revolution against capitalism, landlordism and the state.[19]

Syndicalism, on the other hand, refers to a form of revolutionary trade unionism, centered on the view that revolutionary union action can establish a collectivized, worker-managed social order resting on union structures.[20] Syndicalists argued that “the trade union, the syndicate, is the unified organization of labor and has for its purpose the defense of the interests of the producers within existing society and the preparing for and the practical carrying out of the reconstruction of society after the pattern of Socialism.”[21]

Syndicalist ideas emerged from “the nonpolitical tradition of socialism deriving from the libertarian wing of the First International”.[22] The “main ideas” of syndicalism can “all be found” in the First International, “and especially in the writings of the Bakuninist or federalist wing”.[23] This, as both Marx and Friedrich Engels noted, maintained that workers “must ... organize themselves by trades-unions” to “supplant the existing states”, with the “general strike” the lever “by which the social revolution is started”.[24] Thus, syndicalism was always an integral part of the broad anarchist tradition, although the relationship between anarchism and syndicalism was a complicated one: some anarchists rejected syndicalism, while a substantial section of syndicalists denied (or did not know) that syndicalism was embedded in anarchism.[25]

Taking anarchism and syndicalism seriously

Anarchism and syndicalism, as Benedict Anderson recently reminded readers, constituted an immense “gravitational force” across the planet in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. They were, he notes, the dominant element in the self-consciously internationalist radical Left” from the 1870s onwards and “the main vehicle of global opposition to industrial capitalism, autocracy, latifundism, and imperialism” by the turn of the century.[26] Before 1917, Eric Hobsbawm conceded, “the marxist left had in most countries” been “on the fringe of the revolutionary movement, the main body of marxists had been identified with a de facto non-revolutionary social democracy”, and “the bulk of the revolutionary left was anarcho-syndicalist, or at least much closer to the ideas and the mood of anarcho-syndicalism than to that of classical marxism”.[27]

Yet, in spite of its historical significance, anarchism and syndicalism as an international movement, has “not been well-served by the academy.”[28] Too often its history has been “buried under subsequent defeats and political orthodoxies,” when not effaced altogether by its rivals on the Left.[29] But the history of the movement is of paramount importance, precisely because it is essential to understand the trajectory of labor, of the left, and of anti-imperialist movements. Furthermore, as Arif Dirlik points out, it is crucial to “recall anarchism, which Leninist Marxism suppressed”, for it raises questions about the very meaning of socialism, and the place “democratic ideals for which anarchism ... served as a repository”.[30]

Taking a global view of anarchist and syndicalist history

The general underestimation of the historical importance of anarchism and syndicalism is rooted in the literature’s tendency to focus on the North Atlantic. The standard surveys of the movement’s history scarcely take into account the three quarters of humanity that comprised the colonial and postcolonial world. George Woodcock’s classic study ignored Asia and Africa, and only looked at one case of a colonial society within Europe itself: the Ukraine. Latin America garnered only three pages, despite the author noting that “until the early 1920s most of the trade unions in Mexico, Brazil, Peru, Chili, and Argentina were anarcho-syndicalist”, and that anarchism had there a “place that cannot be ignored”.[31] The work of James Joll reflects the same imbalance.[32] Studies by Daniel Guérin and Roderick Kedward fare no better, offering a brief treatment of the Ukraine.[33] Peter Marshall’s more recent study by comparison is balanced. And yet, it allocates only 2 out of 41 chapters, totaling 33 pages out of 706, to the colonial and postcolonial world.[34]

To describe this literature as strictly “Eurocentric” would be misleading. Other than the coverage of the Ukraine, it ignores the colonial regions of Eastern Europe, and its coverage of Western Europe and its offshoots is oddly incomplete, with cases like Ireland omitted.[35] Such a narrow and unrepresentative selection of cases has resulted in a flawed assessment of the history of anarchism and syndicalism. It posits, for instance, the thesis of Spanish exceptionalism, that is the notion that anarchism in Spain “became a mass movement ... to an extent that it never did elsewhere”.[36] Supposedly, Spain was “the only country in the 20th Century where Anarcho-communism and Anarcho-syndicalism were adopted extensively as revolutionary theories and practices”.[37] Another problematic conclusion either explicit or implicit in this literature is that “anarchism has rarely taken root in ‘Third World’, colonial territories”, with the possible exception of Korea.[38]

Such claims only make sense if the history of anarchism and syndicalism in most of the world is elided. “[T]he truth is”, as Jason Adams astutely notes, “that anarchism has primarily been a movement of the most exploited regions and peoples of the world”.[39] In other words, the history of anarchism and syndicalism mainly took place in the “East” and the “South”, not in the “North” and the “West”.[40] Latin America and Asia, for example, provide many examples of powerful and influential anarchist and syndicalist movements, some of which rivaled that of Spain in importance. Similarly, Asia, Africa, the Caribbean and Eastern Europe (and Ireland) provide ample evidence of movements operating in colonial situations, as well as in postcolonial contexts.

Argentina, Geoffroy de Laforcade’s contribution to this collection, is an instructive case. As de Laforcade demonstrates, Argentina possessed a vibrant and deeply embedded movement by the turn of the century. It is worth noting that Argentine anarchism stretches back to the days of the First International, and that the great Bakunin-Marx debate resonated locally at that time. The precocious development of anarchism in Argentina stemmed from massive proletarian immigration, the formation of transnational activist networks, and the diffusion of a radical press. As in other parts of Latin America these processes combined to produce a movement that would span continents.

Anarchism and syndicalism in Argentina spread rapidly in the burgeoning working-class neighborhoods and workplaces in Buenos Aires, the nation’s capital and chief port. By the turn of the century, Buenos Aires was (with Paterson in the United States) one of the world’s two great anarchist publishing centers, and Argentina became the only country to sustain to two anarchist dailies.[41] The Argentine labor movement reflected the influence of syndicalism. Shortly after it was founded in 1901, the Regional Workers’ Federation of Argentina (Federación obrera regional argentina, FORA) adopted the ideal of “anarchist-communism” at its fifth congress. The FORA would remain Argentina’s dominant labor federation for the next decade.

Anarchist influence in Argentina, as de Laforcade shows, extended beyond FORA to include Catholic unions and the rival General Union of Labor (Unión general de trabajadores, or UGT). The UGT evolved into a syndicalist Regional Workers’ Confederation of Argentina (CORA), which merged with FORA at its ninth congress in 1915. This precipitated a split between a self-described “anarchist” wing (identifying with the positions of fifth congress of 1905, the FORA-V) and a “syndicalist” wing aligned to the 1915 merger congress (the ninth, which adopted more pragmatic positions, thus FORA-IX). The two FORAs grew into the 1920s, with around 250,000 members at their height, and no significant rival centers.[42] Analyzes that downplay the anarchist influence in Argentina overlook the striking fact that the main split in the union movement was between rivals located within a shared, broad, anarchist tradition.[43] In the Argentine context, Marxism—represented by the tiny, moderate local Socialist Party—paled in comparison to the influence of the libertarian movement.[44]

Argentina was by no means an exceptional case of an anarchist “mass movement” in Latin America. In Cuba, anarchism emerged in the 1870s, and “dominated leadership positions in the incipient labor movement” from the 1880s, as Kirk Shaffer notes in his study for this collection. In fact anarchist hegemony persisted for nearly five decades, spanning the Workers’ Circle (1885), the Workers’ Alliance (formed 1887), the syndicalist Cuban Labor Federation (CTC, 1895), the Labor Federation of Havana (1921), and the National Confederation of Cuban Workers (Confederación Nacional de Obreros Cubanos, CNOC, 1925), the latter claiming 200,000 workers.[45] Yet this history has long been obscured, according to Shaffer, by accounts that excised anarchists or misrepresented them as Marxists.[46] Both the Argentine and Cuban cases reflect the larger Latin American pattern: substantial Marxist movements simply did not exist before the mid-1920s,[47] and labor movements were commonly identified with anarchism and syndicalism throughout the rise and fall of the First International and the Labor and Socialist (so-called “Second”) International (1889).

Ediline Toledo and Luigi Biondi’s chapter on Brazil, likewise demonstrates the “diffuse sympathy” anarchism registered among workers in expanding centers like São Paulo. The syndicalist Confederation of Brazilian Workers (COB, 1906) also dominated the union movement. The COB had between 100,000 and 125,000 members in Rio de Janeiro alone by mid-1919, while the moderate socialists were marginalized and isolated. Anarchists in Mexico, also examined by Shaffer, played a leading role in the unions from the days of the General Congress of Mexican Workers, formed in 1876. The syndicalist federation, the House of the World Worker (Casa del Obrero Mundial, COM or Casa) formed in 1912, was the main labor center in the 1910s, with 150,000 members.[48] In 1921, COM was reorganized as the General Confederation of Labor (Confederación General de Trabajadores, or CGT), which brought in the Mexican section of the syndicalist Industrial Workers of the World (the IWW, or Wobblies), peaking at 80,000 in 1928–1929.[49]

Anarchism and syndicalism similarly exercised a preponderant influence over labor movements in Latin America’s less developed countries. Steven Hirsch’s chapter on Peru demonstrates that anarchists and syndicalists were the dominant force in the labor movement for the first three decades of the 20th century. They organized the principal labor unions in Lima-Callao such as the Workers’ Regional Federation of Peru (FORP, 1913, 1919) and the Workers’ Federation of Lima (FOL, 1921) and in the provinces. Peru’s organized labor movement had contact with FORA and the anarcho-syndicalist dominated union movement in Chili.[50] Syndicalism was also a significant force in Paraguay, Uruguay, Bolivia, and Ecuador, and visible in Costa Rica, Venezuela, Puerto Rico and Panama. In Puerto Rico, for example, as Shaffer shows, anarchists were a vocal dissident minority in the Free Federation of Workers (Federación Libre de Trabajadores, or FLT).

African, Asian and European cases

The movement in Africa never attained the influence it had in Latin America, not least because of the late onset of industrialization and proletarianization. Yet, as in the Latin American case, the movement emerged in the areas most closely linked to global processes of capital accumulation and imperial penetration: southern Africa, and the Mediterranean perimeter of North Africa. Anthony Gorman’s chapter on Egypt and Lucien van der Walt’s contribution on South Africa highlight two relatively unknown but highly significant movements, operating at different ends of the diverse continent.

The movement in Egypt emerged along with that elsewhere, and represented in the First International in 1876. It drew much of its early support from the skilled Europeans hired to work on the state’s great modernization projects—most notably the Suez Canal—although it aimed to organize across the barriers of culture and class. Gorman shows that the movement eventually expanded beyond its original immigrant, mainly Italian, nucleus to include Arabic-speaking Egyptians, as well as local Greeks and Jews. This shift was linked to the rise of syndicalist unions and “resistance leagues” in the expanding industrial sector around the turn of the century.

Anarchist activities in South Africa date from the 1880s when the opening of great mines helped launch an industrial revolution. However, the greatest influence of anarchism and syndicalism came after the turn of the century, when Britain had conquered the region and created thereafter the Union of South Africa in 1910. By the end of that decade, a substantial bloc of syndicalist unions had emerged in manufacturing and services—most of these unions were initiated by white radicals, but their base was mainly among people of color. The most notable was the Industrial Workers of Africa. It was through such structures that pioneering white militants like Scots immigrant Andrew Dunbar (1879–1964) recruited Africans like T.W. Thibedi (1888–1960), and Indians like Bernard L.E. Sigamoney (1888–1963).

The overall membership of the South African syndicalist unions probably did not exceed 4,000 workers countrywide in the late 1910s, as compared to roughly 47,000 in the South African Industrial Federation (SAIF, 1914), and 6,000 in the Cape Federation of Labor (1913). It must, however, be noted that these syndicalist unions were some of the very first unions among people of color, who were largely excluded from the two big federations.

In both African cases, the anarchists and syndicalists did not actually establish union federations linking the unions they led or initiated. They played a role—a minority one—in the leadership of more orthodox union centers that emerged from the 1910s: the General Confederation of Labor (Confédération Générale du Travail, CGT, or Ittihad al-niqabat al-‘am) formed in Egypt in 1921, and the Cape Federation of Labor and the SAIF, respectively.

In Central Asia, anarchists could be found across the (ex-)Russian and Ottoman territories, with adherents among Arabs, Turks and national minorities.[51] In South Asia, anarchism influenced Bengali extremists of the early 1900s, the Ghadar Party in the 1910s and the Hindustan Republican Socialist Association in the 1920s.[52] It was, however, in East Asia that anarchism and syndicalism were most prominent.

In East Asia, Dirlik notes, anarchism became the “the dominant ideology” during the first two decades of the 20th century. Pioneering union efforts in the Philippines were followed by more durable and sophisticated movements not just in imperial Japan, but in China, Korea and Vietnam,[53] as well as Taiwan and British Malaya (now Malaysia). Dirlik’s chapter provides a partial overview of the East Asian movement, where immersion “in the burgeoning labor movement” was often an important focus. In China the anarchists played a leading role in unions in the major urban centers.[54] Anarchists founded the first modern unions, with around forty anarchist-led unions in the Canton area alone by 1921, and “anarchist domination” of the unions in Canton and Hunan into the mid-1920s.[55]

While the East Asian movement tended to develop late by European standards, its peak—the late 1910s into the early 1930s—overlapped quite closely with other movements in the colonial and postcolonial world. Dongyoun Hwang’s chapter on Korea shows the movement belatedly emerged in the 1920s, and its key period spanned the 1920s and 1930s. Despite concerted efforts to establish anarchist organizations in Korea, Japanese colonial police thwarted these efforts by repeated “prompt and brutal suppression”. Korean anarchists had more success in the border areas and in China and Japan. Syndicalism was influential—although repression in Korea meant that the most successful Korean syndicalist initiatives occurred among Korean workers in Japan.

As the preceding discussion of the colonial and postcolonial world suggests, the “great age of the anarchists” certainly did not come to a close in 1914.[56] The studies in this volume point to a different chronology.

Like the famed National Confederation of Labor in Spain (Confederación nacional del trabajo, or CNT, 1910), the FORAs, FORP, CNOC, and COM (and its successor the Mexican CGT), along with Chinese, Korean, Egyptian, and South African syndicalist organizations, grew rapidly throughout the 1910s, into the 1920s, and often, beyond.[57] This trajectory is also evident in the story of the Irish Transport and General Workers Union (ITGWU), linked to the Irish Trade Union Congress, which is discussed in Emmet O’Connor’s contribution on Ireland. Anarchism emerged in Ireland as early as 1885.[58] Three decades later, deeply influenced by syndicalism, the ITGWU exploded from 20,000 in 1913 to 120,000 by 1920.

Provincializing Spanish anarchism

By adopting a broader, global scope of comparison and eschewing a traditional focus on the West, then, this volume challenges the validity of the Spanish exceptionalism thesis. Anarchist and syndicalist influence among the working-classes and union movements in Argentina, Brazil, and Cuba, was arguably as significant, if not more so, than in Spain. The CNT at its zenith represented approximately half of Spain’s union movement, whereas the FORAs, CTC, CNOC, COB and FORP comprised a decisive and overwhelming majority of the organized labor force in their respective countries.[59]

From a colonial and postcolonial world perspective, then, Spain’s movement is only one important link in a chain of mass anarchist and syndicalist movements. Barcelona, the “fiery rose” of Spanish anarchism, likewise, must be seen as only one among many “important red-and-black cities”.[60] Anarchism and syndicalism found fertile soil for its “fiery roses” to blossom as powerful movements in urban centers across the globe, including Buenos Aires, Canton, GulyaiPolye, Havana, Hunan, Lima, Lisbon, Montevideo, Mexico City, Rio de Janeiro, São Paulo, and Santiago; there were also budding movements in centers like Alexandria, Cape Town, Dublin, Johannesburg, and Beirut.

The class character of anarchism and syndicalism

Anarchism has long been stereotyped as a movement based on petty bourgeois artisans and peasants, who, threatened by the modernizing forces of industry and mechanization hanker for a pre-modern past.[61] This interpretation has been propounded by Marxist activists and scholars. Not surprisingly, they routinely portray anarchists as “reactionary” petty bourgeois types or occasionally as pre-political “lumpenproletarian” socialists.[62] Even syndicalists are often are characterized as “workers in small industry and artisan crafts”, isolated from “medium and large-scale industry”.[63] Such claims naturally conduce to the simple conclusion that anarchism and syndicalism are anti-modern movements. For some, this reinforces the teleological proposition that the Marxists alone “always and everywhere represent the interest” of “the proletariat” which “alone is a really revolutionary class”.[64]

Under close empirical analysis, the thesis of the petit bourgeois class composition of anarchism and syndicalism assertion is difficult to sustain. The largest organizations in the broad anarchist tradition were the syndicalist unions. Studies drawn largely from the Western experience have demonstrated that the majority of workers in the syndicalist unions were unmistakably proletarian. These proletarians were not limited to casual and seasonal laborers, like construction workers, dockers, gas workers, and farm laborers; factory workers in light and heavy industries, miners, and railway workers also constituted core elements of the syndicalist unions.[65]

The studies in this collection generally bear out the proletarian social base of anarchism and syndicalism. O’Connor’s chapter shows that that syndicalism had a particular resonance among construction, metallurgical, mine, and transport workers, while at its height in 1920, half its membership were farm workers.[66] In Peru, Hirsch points out that anarchism and syndicalism drew support largely from semi-skilled factory, port, and railway workers.[67] Mexican syndicalism, likewise, had strong support from skilled workers in small plants, as well as a mass base among factory workers, notably in textiles, and miners.[68] In the case of Brazil, Toledo and Biondi’s study demonstrates that anarchism and syndicalism garnered support from factory as well as artisanal labor in São Paulo.[69] In Argentina, de Laforcade shows that anarchist and syndicalist unions set down deep roots in the urban working class, and in the expanding “ports to an extent never equaled in any other sector of the economy”.

The African contributions to this volume also corroborate this claim. In Egypt, Gorman shows, the majority of anarchists were initially skilled manual workers, but by the end of the 19th century the movement shifted towards the “new working class, particularly cigarette workers, printers and the employes of the new public utilities, such as the tramways”. In South Africa, van der Walt notes, leading activists included blacksmiths, carpenters and teachers, but the popular membership of syndicalist unions was primarily drawn from semi-skilled and unskilled workers in manufacturing and services, like dockers, tramway workers, clothing workers, and employes in food and tobacco processing.

In short, this volume documents the industrial and service sector composition of anarchism and syndicalism. In the colonial and postcolonial world, it was precisely the sectors most closely associated with capitalist globalization and state modernization that furnished the bulk of anarchist and syndicalist activists. Most of the cases also indicate a concerted attempt to develop support among rural wage workers: this was particularly true in Argentina, Cuba, Ireland, Peru, and Puerto Rico.

It is also important to note that peasant farmers were sometimes targeted for recruitment and mobilization. In China, anarchists were the first Leftist radicals to seriously consider the peasantry as a revolutionary force and to spearhead “the transmission of the revolutionary movement to rural areas”.48 Dirlik points out Chinese anarchists shared with Kropotkin a vision of the world, in which industry and agriculture, town and country, would be harmoniously integrated.

Efforts to organize the Mexican peasantry along anarchist and syndicalist lines date back to the late 1860s.[70] Subsequently, as Shaffer shows, the anarchist Mexican Liberal Party (PLM) of Flores Magón organized armed revolts in Baja California (Mexico, 1911), and in Texas (United States, 1915), which drew heavily on peasant support. Building alliances between urban workers and rural peasants was never easy. Deep divisions existed between Zapatista peasants and COM’s urban-industrial worker base during the course of the Mexican Revolution. In Peru, ethnic and regional tensions between indigenous peasants in the countryside and mestizo workers in urban areas complicated anarchist attempts to forge durable solidarity networks.

Successful peasant organization and mobilization by anarchists, clearly demonstrated the peasants’ revolutionary potential. The most dramatic example comes from colonial Europe in the form of the Makhnovischna (or Makhno movement) anarchist movement which developed in the Ukraine from 1917—the subject of Aleksandr Shubin’s contribution. Anarchist currents were influential in the Ukraine from the 1880s, with Bakunin’s views of particular importance.[71]

The movement revived in the early 20th century. The eponymous Nestor Ivanovich Makhno (1889–1934) came from a poor peasant family, and was jailed in 1908 for anarchist activities. Working in wage labor from his adolescence, he played an important role in the unions of Gulyai-Polye, a small manufacturing town, after his release in 1917.[72]

However, it was from the peasantry of the Ukraine—the richest farming region in the Russian Empire, producing around 20 percent of the world’s wheat by 1914—that the movement drew its big battalions.[73] From 1917 the anarchists in the Ukraine organized the peasants to expropriate land, and then form a largely peasant militia, the Revolutionary Insurgent Army of the Ukraine, the following year. As the Makhnovischna seized control of large sections of West Bank Ukraine, they redistributed land and promoted cooperatives and a system of councils.

The emphasis on peasant organization and self-defense likewise can be seen in the Korean case. Although Korean anarchists were active in Seoul, Shanghai and Tokyo, Hwang points out, they joined Chinese and Japanese anarchists in the Movement for Rural Self-Defense Communities in Fujian Province in the 1920s. As a result, peasant militias were formed to fight off bandit and Communist attacks. In Kirin province in Manchuria, anarchist veteran Ha Ki Rak (1912– 1997) recorded, the anarchist general Kim Jao-jin (of the Korean Independence Army, which controlled the area) sponsored the “Korean People’s Association in Manchuria”. An anarchist aligned body it ran education, services, military defense and cooperatives from 1929 to 1932 in an area with an estimated population of two million.[74] Ha characterized Kim as the “Korean Makhno”, and suggested this “Kirin Revolution” compared favorably to the Makhnovischna revolution in the Ukraine from 1918 to 1921.

Anarchism, syndicalism, and transnational networks

A salient feature of anarchism and syndicalism was the pivotal importance of transnational networks in constituting the movement. Comprised of formal and informal structures, these networks facilitated doctrinal diffusion, financial flows, transmission of information and symbolic practices, and acts of solidarity. Anarchist networks, as a key recent study has shown, were often built upon migratory diasporas and were reinforced by the movement’s press and the travels of major activists.[75] It might be added that were also connected by linked shared campaigns (such as the international protests against the execution of anarchist educator Francesco Ferrer i Guàrdia, 1859–1909), and common rituals like May Day (originating as a commemoration of American anarchists executed in 1887 after the struggle for the eighthour day).

The papers in this collection, therefore, seek to balance a national case study approach with careful attention to the role transnational processes played in the development of anarchism and syndicalism. Shaffer’s study illustrates the merits of paying close attention to the transnational dimension. He delineates two different anarchist and syndicalist networks encompassing the Caribbean, Mexico and southern US. One network linked Cuba, Panama, Puerto Rico, and the US. Its hub was in Havana from whence came ¡Tierra! (‘Land!’), the anarchist weekly. ¡Tierra! would be instrumental in the coordination of a cirum-Caribbean anarchist movement. The other, overlapping network discussed by Shaffer connected Mexico and the US Southwest. Here, the PLM paper Regeneración and the cross-border organizing of the IWW played central roles. Political exile and economic migration also contributed to reinforcing the networks as radicals and workers circulated widely between jobs and temporary sanctuaries throughout the Caribbean, the US and Mexico.

The diffusion of anarchism in East Asia likewise was fueled by transnational and translocal connections. Dirlik stresses the importance of translocal ties in linking revolutionaries across Asia (and also beyond Asia), with the networks not only diffusing ideas but also reshaping them locally. Imperial Paris was important to East Asian anarchism, but imperial Tokyo was undoubtedly the central “location for radical education and activity that is quite reminiscent of the role played by London for radicals in Europe”, drawing in students and radicals from across Asia, spreading nationalism, anarchism and later Marxism. Dirlik stresses in his chapter that the anarchism encountered by Chinese radicals “in the early part of the 20th century was already a product of global circulation, having spilled out of Europe into locations across Asia, Africa and Latin America”. It was adapted to local circumstances and demands (as Toledo and Biondi also note of Brazil, and as Shaffer notes of Cuba) but if “native experiences shaped the translation of anarchism into local idiom, the very act of translation transformed the local idiom as well”.

As indicated earlier, anarchism and syndicalism emerged within the circuits and centers of imperialism, industrial capitalism, and state formation, including its labor mobilizations and communications revolution. As concrete examples, the opening of the Suez (1869) and Panama (1914) canals is very much part of the story of anarchism: the workforce recruited to the former helped launch Egyptian anarchism, as Gorman suggests, and the workforce recruited to the latter spread the movement to the isthmus of the Americas, as Shaffer notes. In Egypt, this contributed to the development of a network linking Egypt, Greece, Lebanon, Palestine, Tunis and Turkey, as well as the major centers in Europe and the Americas, “based on personal recommendation and shared ideological vision”.

Likewise, as van der Walt argues, anarchism and syndicalism came to South Africa in the wake of an industrial revolution financed by European capitalists and hastened by British imperial expansion. British-born immigrants—workers and soldiers—played a key role in fostering the movement. The first organized activity dated to 1881, in Port Elizabeth. Links between South Africa and Britain, especially Scotland—via the radical press, migration, and visits—networked militants in imperial Europe and colonial Africa, with Scotch radicals from the Clydeside factories decisive in introducing the IWW, including the variant associated with Daniel De Leon (1852–1914). Thus, the IWW, formed in Chicago with influences from Paris, spread via Detroit into Glasgow, and from there into Cape Town, Durban, Kimberley, Pretoria and Johannesburg.

Language and ethnic diasporas clearly played an important role in such transnational networks. This can also be seen among the Chinese anarchists who were active in Cuba, France, the United States, Japan, and British Malaya.[76] Language and a shared press—notably papers like Pingdeng (“Equality”)—helped establish the transnational Chinese anarchist network and foster a shared class struggle.[77] It was the Chinese anarchists who launched the Malaysian trade unions.[78] The Italians played a similar role. Indeed, a great deal of the history of Italian anarchism took place outside of Italy. Biondi and Toledo point out there were more Italian-language anarchist periodicals in Brazil than Portuguese ones.

While this might seem a recipe for ethnic insularity, the medium should not be confused with the message. The Italian anarchists were certainly connected by common origins, language and culture but were defined by their anti-nationalist and “cosmopolitan global movement opposed to all borders”.[79] In the Western Hemisphere anarchist networks, as Shaffer suggests, arose from “language facilitated network connections” among a range of Spanish-speaking nationalities across a range of countries and communities.

Hwang’s work makes a similar point, showing that Korean anarchism cannot be reduced to anarchism within Korea proper. It was a regional movement active across East Asia, linked by a common press and it operated in a cosmopolitan context.[80] Thus, Korean anarchism first emerged in China and Japan, and was always located in a cosmopolitan milieu characterized by transnational linkages and activities. There were many examples of joint Chinese, Japanese and Korean anarchist cooperation in the 1920s. Notable initiatives included cooperation in the radical Lida College in China, peasant organizing in Fujian Province, and the founding in 1927, in Nanjing, of the Eastern Anarchist League (Mujeongbu juui dongbang yeonmaeng) by Chinese, Indian, Japanese, Korean, Taiwanese, and Vietnamese delegates.

The concept of “informal internationalism” helps explain the simultaneous emergence of anarchism in Europe, Latin America and North Africa from the late 1860s and 1870s previously alluded to in this introduction.[81] The First International provided the womb in which the anarchist movement emerged, but the formal meetings of the International, its press, and its debates were located within the body of a dynamic global working class and peasant network. Anarchism had an organized presence in Argentina, Cuba, Egypt and Mexico from the 1870s, followed by Ireland, South Africa and Ukraine in the 1880s. The first anarchist-led, syndicalist, unions outside of Spain (the Spanish Regional Workers’ Federation, 1870) and the USA (the Central Labor Union, 1884) were Mexico’s General Congress of Mexican Workers (1876) and Cuba’s Workers’ Circle (1887). These were the immediate ancestors of the better known syndicalist unions that emerged globally from the 1890s onwards.[82]

To put it another way, anarchism was not a West European doctrine that diffused outwards, perfectly formed, to a passive “periphery”.[83] Rather, the movement emerged simultaneously and transnationally, created by interlinked activists on three continents—a pattern of interconnection, exchange and sharing, rooted in “informal internationalism,” which would persist into the 1940s and beyond.

Nor were these linkages only informal. Besides the First International, and the Eastern Anarchist League, we can adduce transnational bodies like the Anti-Authoritarian International (or “Black International”, 1881), of which the American Central Labor Union, and the Mexican General Congress of Mexican Workers, were the largest affiliates, and the syndicalist International Workers Association (1922), with its powerful Latin American wing, the American Continental Workers’ Association (Asociación Continental Americana de Trabajadores, ACAT, 1929).

To speak of discrete “Northern” and “Southern” anarchist and syndicalist movements, then, would be misleading and inaccurate. The networks discussed in this section straddled the colonial, postcolonial, and imperial countries, linking for example, radicals in Mexico and the US, in Cuba and Spain, South Africa and Britain, and Korea and Japan. The movement, in short, was not just internationalist in principle and imagination, but global in its creation, organization, reach and aspirations. At the same time, it did not deny the existence of nationality but rather it sought to reconcile nationality with internationalism.

Race, nation and imperialism

The question of how anarchism and syndicalism approached issues of nationality, race, and imperial power is one that has received surprisingly little attention in the literature. Yet the anarchist and syndicalist movements were ascendant in a period marked by the first modern globalization and empire-building. The way in which the anarchist and syndicalist movement engaged with divisions within the international working class and peasantry, and the impact of imperial power on different parts of the globe, in this particular context, remains strikingly under-examined in the existing literature.

The standard texts on anarchism and syndicalism pay scant attention to how these confronted imperialism and the national question, or how their history was shaped by the inescapable presence of empires. The works of Joll, Woodcock, and Marshall, for example, studiously avoid an analysis of how anarchists and syndicalists grappled with racial and national divisions in the popular classes.

The issue of how anarchism and syndicalism engaged with antiimperialist struggles is also given short shrift in these texts. Conventional treatments, focused on Spanish anarchism, tend to gloss over not only regional and ethnic divisions within the CNT, but the Spanish empire itself. Their examinations of the Makhnovischna scarcely note that the movement was operating in a territory long subject to Poland and Russia (and briefly, Germany), emerged in the context of the massive wave of independence struggles then sweeping Central and Eastern Europe, and competed (and sometimes cooperated) with Ukrainian nationalists.[84] Daniel Guérin’s work at least takes up the issue of when and why anarchist luminary Bakunin supported independence struggles, but neglects to carry this through into his discussion of the Makhnovischna.[85] Marshall’s analysis of Asian and Latin American movements correctly notes their anti-imperialism, but elides what this entailed.[86]

It is understandable, then, that there is a fairly widespread notion that historical anarchism and syndicalism were conspicuously absent from anti-imperialist struggles—a view found even among some contemporary self-described anarchists. For some, this supposed absence is evidence of anarchism’s commendable ethical universalism, and its rejection of arbitrary social divisions.[87] For others, by contrast, it purportedly demonstrates a deplorable Eurocentrism that apparently ensured anarchism had “almost nothing to do with the anti-colonial struggles that defined revolutionary politics in this century”.[88]

However, both of these academic and polemical literatures are deeply flawed: they ignore the depth and breadth of anarchist and syndicalist anti-imperialism. There is a small but valuable scholarly corpus that rather more effectively addresses the relationship between anarchism and syndicalism, on the one hand, and the national question, on the other although it is schematic and often Eurocentric.[89]

In general, it emphasizes that Bakunin and Kropotkin subscribed to the principle of “respect for humanity” based on “the recognition of human right and human dignity in every man, of whatever race” or “color”.[90] For Bakunin anarchism implied a “multi-national, multiracial” and “world-wide” working people’s organization dedicated to a class-based libertarian revolution.[91] A recent study on anarchism in Western Europe also found that from “its very inception” it rejected xenophobia in favor of international unity, anti-militarism and anticolonialism.[92] With respect to “Syndicalist movements”, Marcel van der Linden observed that they “probably belonged to those parts of the international labor movement which were the least sensitive to racism”.[93]

The few extant analyzes of anarchist and syndicalist engagements with racial and national divisions in the colonial and postcolonial world also offer important insights.[94] In general, they underscore an active opposition to prejudice and oppression. In late 19th century Cuba, for example, the anarchist Workers’ Circle was the “first working-class association ... that was explicitly antiracist and antinationalist”, and organized across racial lines, “fostering class consciousness and helping to eradicate the cleavages of race and ethnicity”.[95] Its successor, the Workers’ Alliance, “eroded racial barriers as no union had done before in Cuba”, and sought to combat racial discrimination by employers and the state.[96] In Brazil, labor activists “inspired by the egalitarian doctrines of socialism, anarchism and anarcho-syndicalism” struggled to forge an interracial labor movement, uniting native-born and immigrant workers, and black and white, with explicit appeals to Afro-Brazilians.[97]

Similarly, anarchists and syndicalists in Peru explicitly rejected doctrines of inherent racial inequality, championed the cause of indigenous emancipation, and developed a significant presence among Indian peasants and mine workers.[98] Nevertheless, positivist philosophical influences also shaped the movement’s attitudes toward native Peruvians inasmuch as it tended to see their Westernization as progressive.[99] In Mexico the movement struggled against the “wage disparity between Mexicans and North Americans”, and “discriminatory practices by foreign managers”.[100] The PLM also adopted an anti-racist posture. It claimed that racial and national prejudices were “managed by the capitalists and tyrants” to make “impossible the union of all nations who are separately fighting to free themselves from Capital”.[101]

Supplementing the abovementioned literature, the papers in this volume shed additional light on the movement’s relationship to the national question, demonstrating that a radical and subversive antiracialism and internationalism were hallmarks of the movement. De Laforcade demonstrates that in Argentina there was a “fierce anarchistinspired opposition to nativist and ethnically divisive projections of working-class identity”. Shaffer’s contribution underscores anarchist efforts to surmount racial and national divisions in the working class in Cuba, Mexico and Panama had varying degrees of success. Toledo and Biondi’s work on Brazil shows that exclusive cross-class ethnic associations co-existed alongside integrated anarchist and syndicalist class-based organizations. The immigrant workers—mostly Italian and Spanish—were divided by country, even province, of origin, as well as by language, and language also posed problems for their relations with the (Portuguese-speaking) Brazilian workers. Hirsch’s study documents the Peruvian movement’s efforts to organize and empower indigenous peasants and to forge a working-class alliance that transcended ethnic and regional divisions.

In the Ukraine, the largely ethnic Ukrainian Makhnovischna distinguished themselves from the nationalists in their violent opposition to the murderous anti-Semitism sweeping the collapsing Russian empire. Besides arming Jewish communities, and forming a Jewish battalion in the Revolutionary Insurgent Army, Shubin notes, the movement executed members found to have been involved in pogroms; it also acted against those who attacked German settlers. In Ireland, the syndicalists faced the challenge of organizing in industrialized Ulster, where as O’Connor notes, the Catholic minority formed a subaltern caste. The ITGWU sought to overcome the sectarian divide with class solidarity, and had some success in opposing Protestant Unionism, while supporting Irish republicanism. It was, however, eventually forced to accept the division of the country set out by the 1921 Anglo-Irish peace treaty.

In Egypt, Gorman shows, the anarchists’ syndicalist unions united workers into inclusive “international” unions, despite divisions fanned both by employers and by sections of the Egyptian nationalist movement which drew on nativist and ethnocentric appeals. The movement was committed to “an internationalist mission and membership”, and took great efforts to deal with “ethnic, religious and linguistic pluralism”, “engaging with the diversity of Egyptian society at large”.

The South African context presented a host of acute problems that militated against uniting the popular classes across race and ethnic lines. The majority of the working class were African workers, drawn from conquered peoples, mostly unfree laborers subject to internal passports, segregation and indenture. Free Colored and Indian workers likewise were subject to discriminatory practices in accordance with the racist ideal of white supremacy elaborated under the post1910 state. The white working class, restive and distrustful of big companies who might replace them with unfree black labor, organized along segregationist lines in bodies like SAIF.

Anarchists and syndicalists in South Africa, however, as van der Walt demonstrates, were distinguished by a commitment to interracial labor unity, and “the abolition of all forms of native indenture, compound and passport systems; and the lifting of the native worker to the political and industrial status of the white”. Most favored an IWWstyle One Big Union as the means to sweep away such “tyrant laws”, uniting the working class in the struggle for the social revolution. The syndicalist unions it formed among Africans, Coloreds and Indians were seen as stepping stones to this great goal.

Internationalism, anti-colonialism, and national liberation

It is ironic that the English language literature on anarchism and syndicalism provides nothing comparable to the rich scholarship on Marxist approaches to anti-imperialist struggles. Even nationalist narratives concede anarchists and syndicalists played a key role in 19th and 20th century struggles. Flores Magón lies buried alongside generals and presidents in the Rotunda of Illustrious Men in the National Pantheon at Chapultepec Park, Mexico City, “part of the nationalistic myth of the ‘institutionalized Mexican revolution’”.[102] In the Republic of Korea, anarchists Yu Rim (1894–1961), Bak Yeol (1902–1972) and Yu ha-myŏng (1891–1985) are commemorated as “independence activists”, and Kim Jwa-Jin’s birthplace is a national monument.[103] Meanwhile, Shin Chaeho (1880–1936)—the most famous Korean anarchist—features in school textbooks. The 110th anniversary of Makhno’s birth received official celebrations in Gulyai-Polye, stressing his role as an independence activist.[104] In Dublin, Ireland, the name of the De Leonist syndicalist James Connolly (1868–1916, executed after the failed Easter Rising), adorns train stations and a hospital; like Kim, he has a statue, although this one was sponsored by the unions.[105] The National Union of Mineworkers in South Africa (allied to the ruling nationalist African National Congress, or ANC), is investigating establishing a “workers’ monument” to the “worker hero” Thibedi.[106]

The papers in this collection are, then, of the utmost importance in opening up a serious examination of anarchist and syndicalist responses to imperialism. By the late 19th century, imperialist economic and political penetration had evoked various political and cultural responses across the colonial and postcolonial world. Collaboration and accommodation with empire were always important currents. However, there were major independence struggles across the Spanish empire in the 1890s, followed by colonial Europe in the 1910s. The late 1910s saw protests sweep the African and Asian colonies, and the Arab Revolt against the Ottomans, along with rising demands for more economic independence in Latin America and Southern Africa. By the late 1920s, mass independence movements were becoming important in Africa and Asia. From the 1940s, the remnants of formal imperial rule were collapsing across the world (at least outside of the rapidly expanding Soviet realm).

It is important to stress that nationalism was one—but only one— current in these national liberation struggles; the two are all too often conflated. Nationalism is a definite doctrine, which views the world as comprised of discrete nations, each requiring its own nation-state to express its general will. Nationalist movements therefore center on uniting all sections of the nation, regardless of class, towards that end. This outlook differs radically from the anarchists and syndicalists’ insistence on class-based internationalism and anti-statism, and generally also (as we will show below) to their own visions of decolonization and self-determination.

Indebted to European revolutionary thinking, colonial nationalist movements were a reaction against European (and other) imperialism,[107] usually launched by frustrated native elites. In practice, colonial nationalists vacillated between accommodation with empire, and demands for more radical autonomy, even statehood. Only from around 1919 did the latter demands begin, fitfully, to dominate colonial nationalism.[108] Even then, however, nationalism often struggled to assume leadership of national liberation movements, because religious- and class-based currents were also important forces.

Three major anarchist and syndicalist approaches to independence struggles

The notion that anarchism and syndicalism ignored anti-imperialist struggles is indefensible. Anarchism and syndicalism were doctrinally opposed to imperialism, and thus, in principle, always supported some notion of national freedom. Support for national freedom followed from the anarchist opposition to hierarchy, and stress on voluntary cooperation and self-management. “The right of freely uniting and separating”, Bakunin wrote, “is the first and most important of all political rights”.[109] In place of state centralism and nationalism, he advocated a “future social organization” that was “carried out from the bottom up, by free association, with unions and localities federated by communes, regions, nations, and, finally, a great universal and international federation”.[110] National self-determination itself would, in short, be premised on individual freedom through cooperation, and classlessness as well as statelessness.

The difficulty was, however, that many of the national liberation struggles in the colonial and postcolonial world were influenced by nationalism, or at least, the nationalist dream of independent statehood. The question was therefore posed: how should anarchists and syndicalists relate to nationalism, and to struggles for independence that stopped short of the social revolution for “a great universal and international federation” and a new “social organization”?

Anarchists and syndicalists seemed to have adopted three main approaches.[111] The first of the anarchist and syndicalist responses was that current independence struggles were futile, inasmuch as they were viewed as simply replacing foreign with local oppressors. There were, for instance, substantial tensions between Cuba’s early anarchist-led unions, stressing class struggle, and the separatist movement, stressing the national unity across class, which is touched upon in Shaffer’s chapter.[112] Key anarchists like Enrique Roig de San Martín (1843– 1889) suggested that any change short of full-blown social revolution (delivering national freedom) was futile, and sought to distance the unions from the separatists.[113] This position effectively maintained that national liberation struggles were basically nationalist, and would thus inevitably generate narrowly nationalist outcomes: a new state, and the persistence of a class system. This left these anarchists and syndicalists outside of national liberation movements; notwithstanding their principled opposition to imperialism and colonialism, it often meant they sidestepped these issues for an ostensible focus on class struggle.

The second modal approach was quite the opposite: it actively and uncritically embraced nationalism. Like Roig de San Martín, it tended to conflate nationalism and national liberation, except that it saw this relationship as positive and necessary. In his pioneering work on Korean anarchism, John Crump drew attention to a tendency that was so deeply imbued with nationalism that it “flouted the basic principles of anarchism”.[114] Yu ha-myŏng and Yu Rim served in the Korean Provisional Government in exile, and with Ha formed an Independent Workers and Peasants Party (IWFP) to run in the first post-independence elections. Yu Rim stated that “We Korean Anarchists are not literal non-governmentists” but “want to establish an independent and democratic unified government”.[115] In China, likewise, the anarchists Li Shizeng (1881–1973) and Wu Zhihui (1865–1953) were closely associated with what Dirlik labels the anti-Communist “nationalistically obsessed Guomindang Right”. In practice, they saw the nationalist program as a necessary step towards a future transition toward anarcho-communism.[116] In other words, this approach saw the formation of independent nation-states as a partial break with imperialism, and, indeed, a precondition for a future anarchist society. From this stages approach followed a willingness to set aside differences with the nationalists, downplaying anti-statism and class struggle—at least until independent statehood was achieved.

The third anarchist and syndicalist position on independence struggles was the most sophisticated, and arguably the most important historically: a project of critical engagement and radicalization. National liberation struggles were seen as a crucial part of the libertarian program, and of the class struggle. While current independence struggles could be captured by bourgeois and other elite forces, this was not inevitable. Nationalist and elitist forces could be displaced, with the intervention of anarchists and syndicalists pushing national liberation struggles directly towards internationalist and anti-statist social revolution. Success would merge class and national struggles, rather than somewhat artificially separate the two.

From 1892, as Shaffer indicates, Cuban anarchism largely committed itself to the separatist struggle. It declared unequivocal support for “the collective liberty of a people, even though the collective liberty desired is that of emancipation from the tutelage of another people”, but added the struggle must lead to the predominance of the interests of the popular classes.[117] Many joined José Martí’s Cuban Revolutionary Party (Partido Revolucionario Cubano, or PRC). When the War of Independence started in 1895, anarchists made a “huge” contribution, providing soldiers, resources, propaganda and subversion—and martyrs.[118] The anarchists retained their own agenda throughout, and, after formal independence, were relentless critics of the postcolonial elite and its United States backers.

This position, in short, centered on contesting the national liberation struggle within a larger movement that included nationalists. At its heart was a conceptual distinction between nationalism (merely aiming at a new state) and national liberation in general (potentially able to move to social revolution); and, from this, a determination to achieve leadership of the national liberation struggle. From this perspective, anarchists and syndicalists must participate in national liberation struggles, while remaining skeptical of the nationalists and their plans for statehood. Genuine national liberation did not mean independent statehood, but the satisfaction of the demands of the masses for social and economic equality via a libertarian socialist society.

For example, Connolly—as O’Connor notes—was well known for the dictum that since “the Irish national struggle was also a social struggle, only the working class could complete the struggle, and only socialism could guarantee real economic independence”. The other key figure in Irish syndicalism, Jim Larkin (1874–1947) held a similar position. Both men gave to socialist republicanism a distinctly syndicalist edge. The syndicalists in South Africa in the late 1910s—admirers of Connolly—similarly rejected African (and Afrikaner) nationalism in favor of national liberation through an interracial One Big Union. In South Africa, according to van der Walt, syndicalist formations like the International Socialist League viewed the revolutionary One Big Union as proletarian forge in which a common society embracing all, regardless of color, would be created. Rather than create a nationstate, they sought to establish a self-managed libertarian socialist “Industrial Republic”, as “an integral part of the International Industrial Republic”.

In Puerto Rico, Shaffer notes, anarchists challenged the mainstream independence groups, insisting that real independence had to involve an anarchist and communist restructuring of society. In Mexico, the PLM’s work provides a clear example of an anarchist current aiming to push struggles against Western domination and local elites in a revolutionary direction. At the same time, PLM experience shows the difficult questions that participation in such struggles can pose. Most notable is the PLM’s attempt to radicalize the Plan of San Diego (PSD), a 1915 separatist revolt in southern Texas by Mexicans and MexicanAmericans that had overtones of racial warfare.

In China, too, collaboration with the nationalist party, the Goumdindang, was a controversial issue, with some anarchists seeking to tactically use Guomindang resources for their own, distinct, purposes: Dirlik’s and Hwang’s chapters deal with some of the complexities this entailed. The revolutionary outlook on national liberation was also very influential among Korean anarchists. Militants like Yi Jeonggyu and Bak aimed at social revolution, rather than simply a political revolution that aimed merely at independence. Hwang challenges Crump’s emphasis on the nationalist inclination of the Korean movement, arguing that while anarchism was “re-read” to stress independence, independence was often rethought as part of a larger set of transnational and universal problems and concerns. Shin’s 1923 “Declaration of the Korean Revolution” fits well: besides independence from Japan, it stressed the abolition of class rule and exploitation in “an ideal Korea”.[119]

In Egypt, Gorman shows, the anarchists disagreed with the nationalists, but engaged in several de facto alliances. One was the participation of the Italian anarchist Errico Malatesta in the 1882 revolt led by Ahmad ‘Urabi, and this convergence was also in evidence in the 1919 Revolution, marked by countrywide agitation against British rule, and syndicalist activity between foreign and Egyptian labor. For its part, the Military Revolutionary Soviet of the Makhnovischna declared,

When speaking of Ukrainian independence, we do not mean national independence in Petliura’s [Symon Petliura, head of the nationalist Directory] sense, but the social independence of workers and peasants. We declare that Ukrainian, and all other, working people have the right to self-determination not as an ‘independent nation’, but as ‘independent workers’.

To the extent that the activities of Makhnovischna and Korean People’s Association in Manchuria constituted social revolutions, they would exemplify a successful drive to push national liberation well beyond the bounds of narrow nationalism.

The third anarchist and syndicalist position on independence struggles was very much in line with Bakunin’s support for independence movements on the basis that national liberation had to be fought “as much in the economic as in the political interests of the masses”. A movement dominated by “ambitious intent to set up a powerful State”, and the agenda of “a privileged class” would end up a “retrogressive, disastrous, counter-revolutionary movement”.[120] He believed that:[121]

Every exclusively political revolution—be it in defense of national independence or for internal change...—that does not aim at the immediate and real political and economic emancipation of people will be a false revolution. Its objectives will be unattainable and its consequences reactionary.

The “statist path involving the establishment of separate ... States” was “entirely ruinous for the great masses of the people”, because it did not abolish class power but simply changed the nationality of the ruling class.[122]

A Note on the Volume’s Organization and Scope

This volume is divided into two parts. The first part consists of studies that examine anarchism and syndicalism in the context of European and Japanese colonialism. We define colonialism in a straight-forward manner to refer to peoples and regions of the world subject to direct foreign political and economic control. Some may find controversial the designation of China as part of the colonial world. Although it was never completely colonized, it was systematically subjected to an expanding range of formal concessions of territory and rights from the 19th century, and then to a protracted colonial conquest from the 1930s. The case can thus be made for its inclusion in the colonial section given its colonial and “semi-colonial” status by the early 20th century.

The second part groups studies that probe the experience of anarchism and syndicalism in the context of postcolonial situations, which, given the period covered by this volume, necessarily means primarily Latin American cases. For the purposes of this book, “postcolonial” denotes ex-colonies that, despite independent polities, remain profoundly influenced by the legacies of colonialism. In particular, it refers to countries subject to a clear (but widely varying and contested) degree of indirect external control and of relative economic dependence within the world capitalist economy’s division of labor. These external constraints condition, but do not determine, internal systems of domination by class, race, culture, and gender.

No single volume can possibly address the entirety of the historical experience of anarchism and syndicalism in the colonial and postcolonial world. This book focuses fundamentally on several key analytical questions: Which social groups formed the base of support for anarchist and syndicalist movements in the colonial and postcolonial world between 1870 and 1940? What were the doctrinal tenets, programmatic goals, and organizational structures of these movements? What methods of struggle did they employ? How did they address racial and ethnic cleavages? How did these movements grapple with colonialism, national liberation, imperialism, state formation, and social revolution?

Other questions and lines of inquiry also need to be investigated. We suggest that gender ideologies and practice, race relations, and generational dynamics in anarchist and syndicalist movements in the colonial and postcolonial world require further scholarly research. Likewise, more studies on the countercultural and internationalist dimensions and influences of these movements are needed. We are also cognizant of the limited coverage of our volume. Certainly, anarchist and syndicalist (and anarchist and syndicalist-influenced) movements in other African, Eastern European, Middle Eastern, South Asian, Central American, and Pacific island contexts deserve scholarly examination. The post-1940 period also needs attention. We hope this volume opens up new vistas on the history of labor and the left, and the materials collected here will help to shape future research agendas.

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