Journal: June 16, 2018

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AN ERA OF REFLECTION: For the last week, my research has been focused very much on the 1920s, right at the end of the period that I ordinarily treat in historical work. I’ve been working with a rough-and-ready periodization scheme that breaks the long formative period of anarchism (1840-1920) in a forty-year “era of anarchy,” before the popularization of anarchism as an idea, during which “being an anarchist” meant engaging with an anarchy-without-anarchism, and a forty-year “era of anarchism,” during which the a largely communistic “modern anarchism” attempted to develop its own ideas and come to terms with the legacies of the earlier period (sometimes characterized as “mutualism.”) It might actually make sense to cut off the second era around the opening of WWI, but certainly the years between the two world wars had a rather different character, as far as anarchism was concerned, and part of what distinguished them was widespread internal reflection. The experience of WWI and of the Bolshevik revolution raised new questions for anarchists. The rise of syndicalism did as well. So perhaps it comes as no surprise when we find that many of the most prominent figures in the international anarchist movement spent much of the 1920s focused on the question of what anarchism was under new circumstances and what it would have to be to move forward effectively.

The “Suggestions for Discussion” circulated by Emma Goldman and Alexander Berkman were not the only attempt to survey informed anarchist opinion in the period. A far more ambitious and successful attempt was the Encuesta organized in 1926 by the Spanish group, “Los Iconoclastas,” based in Steubenville, Ohio. Nearly forty responses were published in La Protesta (Buenos Aires) and its Suplementos. I’ve started to transcribe that material and have, for the time being, included machine translations so that folks can get an idea of the topics discussed and the character of some of the answers. I’ll come back and clean up the translations as time allows.

ANARCHIST ENCYCLOPEDIA: Obviously, one of the most ambitious anarchist projects of the 1920s was the Encyclopédie Anarchiste. I haven’t had as much time recently to work on translating entries from the Anarchist Dictionary, but I did track down two early articles from the Revue Anarchiste (“To the Anarchists of All Nations” and “A Work of Immense Utility“) that include some of the first announcements of the project.

THE WHY I AMS: I’ve had good success tracking down the last few entries in the “Economic Symposium” staged by Twentieth Century. Dyer D. Lum’s “Why I Am a Social Revolutionist,” Frank Q. Stuart’s “Why I Am an Individualist” (which picks some amusing fights with Tuckerite anarchism) and Rev. W. D. P. Bliss’ “Why Am I a Christian Socialist?” round out the series. That leaves three essays—or one pamphlet, depending on how the interlibrary loan search goes—to complete the entries from the UK Liberty.

The articles from the 1890s are fairly superficial, when compared to the survey answers from the 1920s, but I’m happy to be able to add all of this material to the ANARCHIST BEGINNINGS archive. It strikes me that the mutual lack of comprehension between tendencies that is so clear in the early writings, as well as the general lack of a lingua franca which was presumably to be addressed by the later projects, both have a very familiar, contemporary feel. It strikes me that any of these initiatives—personal “professions of faith,” surveys of individual opinion or formal discussion of anarchist keywords and concepts—probably still have some usefulness for modern anarchists. And I have made a first, tentative proposal for an anarchist survey, to which I hope folks will consider contributing.

THERE OUGHT ALWAYS TO BE ANARCHY: With a couple of manuscripts mostly completed, I’ve been trying to find a balance, moving forward, between the work that I’m doing on “popular” anarchist figures—Bakunin, Goldman, Proudhon or even Ravachol—and the real outliers that used to take up so much of my attention. I have a lot of fun with the former work, particularly as it almost always involves the discovery of surprising, potentially subversive elements right in the heart of the anarchist tradition, but that work is also inescapably a bit heavy, in the sense that many anarchists are pretty content with the image they have, positive or negative, of our anarchist pioneers, so that you always run the risk of being the bearer of bad news, if not worse. Almost nobody care what I have to say about Claude Pelletier or Calvin Blanchard, but at least there is very little danger of being considered a numbskull or turncoat, no matter what I say about them. What I’ve really been looking for for quite some time was the outlier about whom it might be possible to make people care, so that some of this dynamic tension between history and tradition might be dealt with fairly directly. There have been some promising figures. I’m hoping that the Hector Morel collection I’ve been working on will appear “mainstream” enough to appear in the same series as Anarchy and the Sex Question and New Fields, despite his obscurity, but, as fine an example of several neglected tendencies as he is, I don’t think of him as the figure that really bridges the two halves of my research. I am more optimistic about Eliphalet Kimball as a possible focus for a work that might convincingly demonstrate the importance of at least some of the obscure historical figures to the understanding of anarchism, so I’ve been working on a possible collection, There Ought Always To Be Anarchy: Thoughts on Natural Principles, 1852-1876, incorporating the recently discovered material from Woodhull and Claflin’s Weekly. The volume would provide some useful context for the use I hope to make of Kimball’s writings in A Good Word, but I think, in general, that his rather homespun anarchist thought provides a striking distillation of some key elements of anarchist thought—and a useful reductio ad absurdum of some others.

It is only by anarchy and violence that a great accumulation of social wrongs can be removed. Anarchy is a good word. It means, “without a head.” Violence is the healing power of Nature applied to society. The violence which would follow from the abolishment of law, would be proportion to the number and magnitude of the wrongs that needed removal. There ought always to be anarchy, but there would be no violence where there were no wrongs.

BEYOND THE LABYRINTH: It’s College World Series time, so I’ll at least be listening to a lot of NCAA baseball for the next week or so, while I transcribe Spanish respuestas to the Stuebenville Survey and start back to work on the manuscript stack. That ought to stave off the symptoms of NCAA softball withdrawal for a while, at least. I finished watching AMC’s The Terror, and thought it was a fine polar exploration tragedy, with a supernatural thread that was—in the television series, if not in the book—just a bit of a mixed blessing.  It looks like I’ll spend part of the next week finishing up a couple of Italian detective series, one of which (Detective De Luca) makes good use of its setting in the fascist era and the other of which (Homicide Squad) features one of those rare awkward office romances that doesn’t make you feel ashamed to be a human being. Beerwise, I remain glad that Twilight is back. And when the weather heats up I have a beet-flavored Berliner Weisse and a cider brewed with spent gin botanicals to try, so perhaps some future journal entry will include reviews.


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