Anarchist VoicesJuly 27th, 2006
Anarchist Voices: An Oral History of Anarchism in America is a real treasure. It's more than 450 pages long, but I couldn't put it down. The book allowed me to escape into the lives of the real participants of the Anarchist movement of North America in its previous heyday of the 1890s-1930s. Originally published in 1995, Paul Avrich interviewed hundreds of Anarchists and former Anarchists who were mainly in their eighties and nineties in the 1970s, the majority dying within a few years of the interviews. I was especially impressed by this, since it gave hundreds of people who had led amazing lives a sort of last memoir before they passed, much in the same style as Working by [by whom?].
It is divided into six sections covering much of the American Anarchist movement. It is mainly centered around the east coast, especially New York. They are 1) Pioneers, which focuses on relatives and close friends of the famous Anarchists like Alexander Berkman and Ben Reitman, 2) Emma Goldman, who was hugely influential and left a strong impression on everyone interviewed 3) Sacco and Venzetti, which details mostly Italian Anarchist experiences around the famous trials and frame-up of the Italian immigrants, 4) Schools and Colonies, which focus on the Modern School movement like the Ferrer school or the Stelton colony in which Anarchists tried to build communities and separate themselves into a lifestyle, 5) the Ethnic Anarchists, focusing on different groups which really brought ideological Anarchism to the United States, like the Russians, Jews, Spanish, and Italian immigrants, 6) the 1920s and beyond, which links the activities after the big decline on the US Anarchist movement after the 1920s until the 1960s and the rise of the "new anarchist movement" starting in the 1980s.
What really struck me about this book was how similar some of the arguments of the Anarchist movement were in the past to those of the present. Past divisions between sub-groups were detailed in the text as well. As Avrich explains, the main split was between the Anarcho-syndicalists/communists and the Anarcho-individualists. Today, the main split is between the Anarcho-syndicalists/communists and the eco-anarchists. The discussion also includes people who got burnt out on anarchists because they thought the anarchists were ineffective. Many do not regret their involvement in the movement and look back on the years they spent in the movement as the best years of their lives.
In the end, the book is very inspiring because so many of the interviewees still call themselves Anarchists and see that the fight for a better world will continue no matter what. Many of them remain idealists and are hopeful that the world they have worked towards will come about someday. They have hope despite having seen the world nearly destroy itself, supposed comrades (like the Communists) betray them, and enough bickering to make anyone cynical. Many of them had not been involved in the Anarchist Movement for many years, or had simply been involved in book clubs or discussion groups that passed on the ideas. And yet they are still committed to the idea that all humans should be free of oppression and that no government can make you free no matter where you are on this earth.
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