Distributaries: Atercracy

Our Lost Continent and the Journey Back: II. — Distributaries (1865–1886)

Project Page:
MAPPINGS: Notes for an Introduction
SOURCES: The First Leg of the Journey
    CONFLUENCES: The Final Leg of the Journey

      Some of our distributary channels really diverged early, as anarchist ideas spread through the export of the European press and through the exile of European revolutionaries. So, for example, there are individuals and incidents to be explored in the context of the French exile communities in North America.

      Among those French exiles, Claude Pelletier has come to occupy a special place in my studies. He was one of the most interesting of those continuing Proudhon’s project, particularly as his work reunited elements from Proudhon and Pierre Leroux in a much more substantive way that we find, say, in the work of William Batchelder Greene. He was also clearly involved in labor internationalism, starting with the International Association that preceded the “First” International, contributing to some important French-language papers in New York.

      His works are fascinating, from the 1848 Solution du problème de la misère to the various works, such as Les soirées socialistes de New-York, that he published while in the United States. Those include a Dictionnaire Socialiste in three volumes and a play that explores the radical ideas of the French 1848 revolution—and specifically those of Proudhon and Pierre Leroux—in the context of a retelling of the 15th-century Hussite rebellion.

      A close reading of some of these works will certainly occupy an important place in this part of Our Lost Continent and the Journey Back.

      But Pelletier’s work, and particularly the label he created to describe it, have assumed another sort of importance in my work over the years. That label—Atercratie or Atercracy—has come to signify for me the variety of other ways that the anarchist idea might have been conceived and found organized expression.

      One of the forms of analysis that I have proposed here, but which has never quite got a proper start, has been the exploration of what anarchist history might have looked like if pioneered by other individuals, in other times and places, than those who ended up making the beginnings that we have inherited. I have gone as far as sketching out the circumstances and some of the qualities of a number of different potential anarchist historians, starting back in 2014 with a sketch for “Jack Deames:”

      Jackson Wendell Deames (aka Jacques Dime) 1858-1965. Of mixed French-American parentage, born out of wedlock to a single mother, who promptly succumbed. I have my theories about the details, but only time will tell what we will discover about his parents, the circumstances of his conception, etc. Those who know my other work will understand that 1858 represents for me a particular moment in the coming of age of anarchism. Raised—by diverse hands, shall we say—among the French workers who were part of the Union Républicaine de Langue Française, among tales of the February Revolution of 1848, the June Day, the coup d’état of December 2, 1851, the International Association, Déjacque’s Libertaire, etc, and entering at a young age into an international workers’ movement which was, in the city where he was born, curiously mixed with elements we might more immediately associate with individualist anarchism, and possessing a wealth of intelligence and a dearth of close supervision, we can begin to imagine how Jack’s lifelong obsession might have taken root. We can also see how certain individuals, who might not feature so prominently in either the strictly European or strictly North American accounts, might come to occupy a prominent place. Take, for example, Claude Pelletier (1816-1880)…

      Then it became clear that Jack/Jacques would need a larger framework, and companions:

      Jackson Wendell Deames (aka Jacques Dime) was born, as a character around which to build this alternative point of view. Immediately, he accumulated a checkered career, a long life and a life-long project to go with it: The Rise and Progress of the Great Atercratic Revolution. Fleshing him out, I borrowed bits from Nettlau and [C. L.] James, and more bits from Ravachol and Oliver Twist. I found that there was an existing character in my Distributive Passions tales who could pass for the aging Jack Deames, living out his last years under an assumed name. I built him up as a logical foil to my own approach, and then quickly gave him his own foil, a determined woman with an overlapping mission: Matilda “Tilly” Thorne. Between the two of them, I’ve started to parcel out a range of good stories and heretical interpretations that I would like to examine from a variety of perspectives….

      A third, earlier historian was added sometime later in my notebooks, along with quite a bit of detail about what specific stories might be told. Progress was very slow, but never really abandoned. Still, in the span of five years and through a lot of rather uphill work trying to establish a general view of anarchist history for my various projects, a funny thing happened: the book of “good stories” gradually became this project, while the semi-fictional “alternate historiography” project languished—not because I lost enthusiasm for the idea, but because nobody else seemed to get it.

      At some point, as Our Lost Continent and the Journey Back began to seem more and more like something I could actually pull off, I finally did abandon the project, incorporating much of what I had intended to do with it directly into the new work. And this strategy of cannibalizing and combining projects is one that I think is genuinely more promising than much of what I had been pursuing before.

      In the end, however, Jack, Tilly and Patience (who has never even had a chance to take a bow) showed themselves a bit more resilient than I had expected—and one day, a couple of weeks ago, I sat down and wrote most of the introduction to a very simple version of The Rise and Progress of the Great Atercratic Revolution, which I hope to find the time to pursue as a kind of long footnote to the present study.

      However, just in case these plans once again fall through, let me at least introduce Patience Coppe—a single mother, early advocate of free unions and (in some universe not too unlike our own) the first real historian of the anarchist idea—and her son, Kimball (who looks, perhaps naturally, a bit skeptical about all of this…)


      About Shawn P. Wilbur 2703 Articles
      Independent scholar, translator and archivist.