Tag Archives: History

( Many people, upon hearing about Anarchism, consider a society based on anarchist principles as unrealistic, idealistic and naive – the vision of dreamers. Given the homogenous view of the world represented in the media, it is often difficult for people to imagine a society where such universally accepted institutions as the state, the judiciary system, the police, armies, and nations no longer exist.

For a glimpse of how such a society would function it is useful to look to the social revolution that took place in Spain in 1936, when, over a period of two years, people took power into their own hands and started to construct a completely different society based on anarchist principles.

Anarchist ideas had been gaining strength in Spain since the second half of the 19th century. The CNT, an anarcho-syndicalist trade union, was formed in 1910, and by 1936 was very powerful, having a membership of 1.5 million. By that time anarchist ideas were strong in the minds of the peasants. In fact, collectivisation had actually started in some areas of the countryside before the revolution.

On July 17th a military coup took place in Spanish Morocco which spread the next day to the peninsula. In the cities and villages the workers organised themselves to defeat the military uprising and thanks to their courage and initiative the fascist revolt was stopped in three-quarters of Spain. These people however were fighting not only to crush the fascist attempt to seize power, they were also fighting for a new social order in Spain.

As soon as the fascists were defeated, workers’ militias were set up independent of the state. The factories in the cities were taken over by the workers, and in the rural areas the lands of the fleeing fascists and fascist sympathisers were taken over. In the rural parts of the Republican zone, under the influence of CNT and FAI (Federation of Iberian Anarchists) members, collectivisation was the most far reaching. Usually it was the members of the CNT or the FAI who called general meetings in the villages and pushed for collectivisation.

At these meetings people voluntarily pooled whatever land, tools and cattle they possessed. To this was added whatever land had been expropriated from the large land owners. “People who had nothing to bring to the collective were admitted with the same rights and duties as the rest”. (1) Soon almost two-thirds of all the land in the area controlled by anti-fascist forces was taken over and collectivised. In all between five and seven million people were involved.

The organisational structure and power structure of the collectives

The smallest unit of each collective was the work group, usually numbering five to ten members, but sometimes more. Everyone in a collective, where possible, was obliged to work.

“The collective was the free community of labour of the villagers…..The group might consist of friends, or the neighbours on a certain street, or a group of small farmers, tenant farmers, or day labourers.” (2)

Each group was assigned land by the collective and they were then responsible for the cultivation of this land. Within each work group a delegate was elected who, while working alongside her comrades most of the time, also represented the views of her group at the meetings of the collective. In some collectives there was an Administrative Commission which met with the delegates from each work group and drew up the work plan for the next day.

The Administrative Commission or management committee was responsible for the day to day running of the collective. “They would look after the buying of materials, exchanges with other areas, distributing the produce and necessary public works such as the building of schools”.(3) Members of the management committee were elected at general assemblies of all participants of the collective. The general assembly of collectivists was sovereign when important decisions were made.

Federations of collectives were also created. In Aragon, where there were 450 collectives involving half a million people, the most successful federation was set up. Here, district federations and regional federations were established. Collectives in the same local area joined to form a district federation which was made up of delegates elected in each of the collectives. The district federation maintained warehouses to store agricultural produce from the collectives. It was also responsible for communication and transport between affiliated villages, and supported cultural progress in the area.

Regional federations, such as the Regional Federation of Aragonese Collectives and the Regional Federation of Peasants, were also founded which were made up of delegates from the collectives. These federations were set up for various purposes. Among others to set up technical teams to improve agricultural and livestock production; to offer training for young people; to collect production statistics; to create regional reserves; and to offer credits and aid, without interest, to the collectives.

All this took place through the initiative of the peasants. Although the government existed it had no power. “It was shorn of the repressive organs of the state. Power was split into countless fragments and scattered in a thousand towns and villages among the revolutionary committees that had taken control of the land and factories, means of transport and communication, the police and the army. The military, economic and political struggle was proceeding independently of the government, and, indeed, in spite of it.”(4)

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( An essay on the rise and fall of organized anarchism in Japan in the early 20th century, with special emphasis on its anarcho-syndicalist dimension, with interesting details concerning the disputes, splits and controversies that plagued the Japanese movement and which were surprisingly similar in their basic contours to those that affected the anarchist movement in the West during the same period.

Anarcho-syndicalism in Japan: 1911 to 1934 – Philippe Pelletier

The history of anarcho-syndicalism, anarchism, and more generally the workers and peasants movement in Japan between the two world wars, is of unprecedented richness. It also contributes powerful lessons in all domains: tactical, strategic, ideological and philosophical. If a conclusion can be drawn from this experience, it is this: on the other side of the world hundreds, if not thousands, of people fought for an ideal of libertarian emancipation expressed in values that, of course, while depending on the local context—Japanese and more broadly Asian—were nonetheless, and still are, of universal significance.

The Japanese anarchists and anarcho-syndicalists, however, did not evolve in a closed environment. They were always informed, sometimes after a certain delay, of the theoretical trends and strategic debates of the movement in the rest of the world. They were always making contacts, traveling and translating. Kotoku Shusui (1871-1911) went to the United States; Osugi Sakae (1885-1923) to France and China; Ishikawa Sanshiro (1876-1956) to Belgium and France (where he was the guest of Paul Reclus) and to China in 1927; Iwasa Sakutaro (1879-1967) to California and China; Yamaga Taiji (1892-1970) to China, Taiwan and the Philippines. Besides learning to speak western languages, many of them also spoke Esperanto (Osugi Sakae, Yamaga Taiji, etc.). They were thus participants in numerous international initiatives. Anarchists were also more numerous than communists in the Japanese delegations that attended the preliminary conference for the “Far Eastern Peoples’ Congress” held in Irkutsk in November 1921. The anarcho-syndicalist Yoshida Hajime was even a member of the delegation that attended the plenary conference in Moscow in 1921.1

This history, however, presents difficulties to the would-be investigator. Besides the problems posed by the linguistic barriers to understanding the texts, we must call attention to at least two factors that have long constituted obstacles to this project: the predominance, among the historians of the post-war period, of not only the viewpoints of liberal democracy, but also of the Marxist left, in the interpretation of the pre-war period, which has resulted in the concealment or marginalization of the role played by the anarchists and anarcho-syndicalists; the extreme weakness of the Japanese anarcho-syndicalist and anarchist movement during this same pre-war period, linked in part to the factor mentioned immediately above [Marxist and liberal predominance] and also to the dramatic changes undergone by a country that over the course of thirty years was transformed from a developing country (as it was categorized by the geographer Yves Lacoste in the fifties) to one of the major industrial powers.

Fortunately, the Japanese, whose culture places such a high value on the written word and memory, have preserved multiple traces of this history. Some of its militants have attempted to translate it into English. Furthermore, after about fifty years, a new generation of western researchers and historians has been able to take a fresh look at the works of their predecessors (George Beckmann, Fred Notehelfer, Thomas Stanley, Stephen Large) who were, to say the least, “commissioned” by the American authorities, in the framework of the cold war, with the job of knowing the global communist enemy; this new generation produced works of high quality, on Japan as well as China (Korea was, at the time, the big missing piece in this picture).

In this connection we must emphasize above all the contribution made by historians like John Crump, Byron Marshall, Phil Billingsley, Arif Dirlik, Edward Krebs and Peter Zarrow (the last two have written about China). The other original contribution of these investigations, although one does not necessarily have to share their perspectives, lies in the fact that, apart from a few exceptions, they offer the invaluable advantage of not distorting the principles or the history of anarchism or anarcho-syndicalism. We must also mention in this regard the work of the Biographical Dictionary of the International Workers Movement, edited by Jean Maitron (the volume on Japan was written by Shiota Shobei, a pro-communist author) [Le Japon. Shiota Shobei, Dictionnaire biographique du mouvement ouvrier international, collection Jean Maitron, Editions ouvrières/Editions de l’Atelier,1978, 2 tomes].

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( In 1887 four Chicago anarchists were executed. A fifth cheated the hangman by killing himself in prison. Three more were to spend 6 years in prison until pardoned by Governor Altgeld who said the trial that convicted them was characterised by “hysteria, packed juries and a biased judge”. The state had, in the words of the prosecution put “Anarchy .. on trial” and hoped their deaths would also be the death of the anarchist idea.

The anarchists were trade union organisers and May Day became an international workers day to remember their sacrifice. They were framed on false charges of throwing a bomb at police breaking up a demonstration in Chicago. This was part of a strike demanding an 8 hour day involving 400,000 workers in Chicago that started May 1st 1886 .

The anarchist idea did not die in Chicago in 1887. Today it inspires a new wave of struggle against global capitalism. Join in this struggle.

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( The finest single volume history of European anarchism is finally available in English in Paul Sharkey’s elegant translation. Drawing on decades of research, Alexandre Skirda traces anarchism as a major political movement and ideology across the 19th and 20th centuries.

Critical and engaged, he offers biting and incisive portraits of the major thinkers and, more crucially, the organizations they inspired, influenced, came out of, and were spurned by. Opinionated and witty, he is equally at home skewering the actions of the early anarchist Victor Serge as he is the Paris chief of police who organized undercover “anarchist bombers” in an attempt to infiltrate and discredit the movement. Skirda argues that the core problem for anarchists has been to create a revolutionary movement and envision a future society in which the autonomy of the individual is not compromised by the need to take collective action. How anarchists have grappled with that question in theory and practice make up the core of the book.

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Skirda – Facing the Enemy – A History of Anarchist Organization from Proudhon to May 1968.pdf 19.69 MB


Photographs of a large anarchist rally in union Square, New York City, with Alexander Berkman addressing the crowd, on 11 July 1914.

(Bradical Mang!) Over 5,000 people attended the mass memorial meeting called by the Anti-Militarist League for Berg, Hanson, and Caron, the three anarchists killed in the Lexington Avenue explosion. Over 800 policemen monitored the meeting, while Berkman, Abbott, Edelsohn, Elizabeth Gurley Flynn, Carlo Tresca, David Sullivan and Charles Plunkett all spoke for their dead comrades.


via Jake Cortez / fb

( Philately: Anarchism and Stamps

There is a long anarchist tradition of stamp collecting. In most cases, receiving non obliterated stamps paid for the expenses. But often some comrade would start a collection and sell it to philatelists for the benefit of the movement.

Though many anarchists reached an international fame, it was very rarely that states would picture them, and whenever it was the case their philosophy was never mentioned.

Nevertheless, there are a few anarchists represented in stamps, the most frequent one probably being count Tolstoy, the author of War and Peace. The Spanish Civil War also occasioned a set of anarchist stamps, which were used for purposes of propaganda. There were also false stamps, for instance of Nestor Makhno.

The anarchist stamps that were printed in Spain during the 1936 Civil War are very rare and today very valuable. After Franco’s victory, people who kept them risked their lives.

Some of those who created those anarchist stamps and posters are relatively famous. Carles Fontseré (1916 – 4 of January of 2007) worked for the Spanish FAI, the CNT and the POUM. He worked with Salvador Dalí and Cantinflas and later was in Hollywood,

There has also been some exercise in imagination. New Zealand anarchist Bruce Grenville was the mastermind in the 1970s behind an extraordinary hoax involving the creation of an imaginary state: Occussi-Ambeno. See the stamps of Occussi Ambeno

Philately: Anarchism and Stamps, What’s new: 15 January 2007. [Online].

Earlier post in this topic:

(europeans against the political system/fb) July 20, 1899
New York City newsboys go on strike, refusing to sell the New York Journal and the New York World. Not allowed to return unsold papers (which they had to buy up front), newsboys—who were desperately poor and often homeless—typically earned around 30 cents a day and worked late into the night. The strike ended after two weeks when the companies agreed to start buying back unsold papers.

( The 1934 Minneapolis Teamster Strike

THE 1934 MINNEAPOLIS TRUCKERS STRIKE On “Bloody Friday”, July 20,1934,at 3rd and 6th, 67 striking truckdrivers and their supporters were shot by Minneapolis police, acting on orders from the Citizens Alliance, an anti-labor employers’ group, which controlled city government. Seventy-five years later, WE REMEMBER THEIR SACRIFICE!

This weekend Minneapolis returned to an old tradition and celebrated the 1934 general strike in Minneapolis, that brought unionism to Minneapolis. The first day was a music festival in the streets where the fighting took place. Today was a picnic attended by relatives of strikers, and representatives of the UE who took part in the Republic Windows occupation in Chicago. No known 1934 strikers are living.

Teamsters got their name from starting out organizing drivers of teams of horses. There was less time between the 1934 stike and the Civil War, than the strike and today.

By Dave Riehle

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1936. David an unemployed young man, leaves Liverpool to join the fight against Fascism in the early days of the Spanish Civil War. He joins an international section of the Republican Militia on the Aragon front where he experiences the trials and anguish of the war.

Wounded, he convalesces in Barcelona and is caught in the conflict on the Republican side between the Communist Party and his revolutionary comrades in the militia.

The resolution of this conflict and David’s return to the front may seem tragic but his belief in the possibility of revolutionary change is unshaken. His story is revealed only after his death, sixty years later, in letters discovered by his granddaughter.