Our Lost Continent: Episodes from an Alternate History of the Anarchist Idea, 1837–1936

[What follows is a collection of notes and links that will eventually become the table of contents for Our Lost Continent. All present content may be subject to extreme revision, reorganization, deletion, etc.]

Our Lost Continent and the Journey Back

History never starts fresh or finishes entirely, but we do encounter moments that are quite clearly recognizable as beginnings and endings. We’ll need to keep both of these truths in mind.


I. — Sources (1837–1865)

Pierre-Joseph Proudhon, L’Humanitaire, Sylvain Maréchal, Pierre Leroux, William B. Greene, Charles Fourier, Etienne de la Boetie, Anselme Bellegarrigue, Ernest Cœurderoy, Joseph Déjacque, Eliphalet Kimball, Henriette (artiste), Jenny P. d’Héricourt, Calvin Blanchard, Henry Edger, Le Proletaire, Stephen Pearl Andrews, Josiah Warren, Mikhail Bakunin, Adin Ballou, Félix Pignal, César de Paepe, Flora Tristan, Jeanne Deroin, Ganneau (The Mapah), Walt Whitman


Introduction: Talk of Beginnings and Ends

Prologue: A World without Anarchists

EPISODES:

  • “Proudhon’s Barbaric Yawp” (1840)

Epilogue


Setting aside some exploration of various contexts, the account of this first period begins with Proudhon’s 1840 anarchist declaration—“je suis anarchiste”—and ends with his death in 1865. While we might talk about various anarchistic or libertarian tendencies predating—or even propose a perennial libertarian current—that declaration seems to open or mark certain new possibilities with regard to political identities. The figure of “the Anarchist,” with its attendant roles and norms, received at least its formal introduction to the world stage. And that figure was too attractive not to draw other libertarian thinkers and activists to it, so that, while no explicit ideology of anarchism emerged for several decades, the number of would-be anarchists increased fairly quickly.

At the same time, however, Proudhon was developing his social science—anarchistic in character, but more specifically organized around notions like justice and collective force. In his writings, the concept of anarchy was subject to a somewhat uneven and anarchic development, both because Proudhon understood it is somewhat different terms than subsequent anarchists would and because the future projects of an explicitly anarchist ideology or movement had not yet been introduced to the stage.

With the benefit of hindsight and a good deal of careful persistence, we can translate Proudhon’s ideas into terms that are more familiar to us and that tend to serve our anarchisms more directly. We can imagine a Proudhonian anarchism and then—addressing certain obvious weaknesses in the original work and bringing more of that hindsight to bear—perhaps a neo-Proudhonian anarchism. Then, having reached the period of Proudhon’s death—knowing that, historically speaking, we are on the verge of one of the most significant breaks in the development of anarchist thought—we might imagine the outcomes had anarchist thought had a more continuous development through the era of the First International. Applying Proudhon’s sociology to the problem of developing anarchism, conceived in terms of ideologies and movements, we might plot a potential path forward, addressing, among other things, the role that the theory of collective force might have played in the organizational efforts of the internationalists.

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II. — Distributaries (1865–1886)

Max Nettlau, Mikhail Bakunin, James Guillaume, Adhemar Schwitzguebel, Dr. Junqua, Hector Morel, Claude Pelletier, Benjamin R. Tucker, Ricardo Mella, Dyer D. Lum, André Léo, Louise Michel, Louis Masquerier,


Summary of previous volume:

Prologue: Anarchy without Proudhon

EPISODES:

From the funeral of Proudhon to the Haymarket bombing.

Epilogue


Each leg of the journey becomes a little bit more complicated than the last. As we move on from 1865—the year of Proudhon’s death and Max Nettlau’s birth—we have to account for both the historical events that did occur and the anarchist development that might have occurred, but did not. And we will have to account for the ways in which the emergence of the IWA, in the midst of its complicated birth at the same time, contributed to and interrupted the development of anarchist ideas.

We will have to explore the period of more than a decade between the death of Proudhon, and the dispersion of a particular anarchist project, and the emergence of “modern anarchism” in the wake of the split in the International. And very little of the specifically anarchist or “Proudhonian” elements in that period found their place within the IWA. As a result, many of the episodes we’ll be looking at are likely to be quite marginal to the histories of the International, so ably told by historians like Robert Graham, Wolfgang Eckhardt and René Berthier.

I expect that this portion of the history will be among the most challenging, both for me and for my readers, but perhaps also among the most rewarding, in terms of providing useful contexts for more familiar episodes.

Bakunin will obviously feature among the most prominent characters in this chapter, as will Nettlau, in the final years, but, as the constant concern is to keep the narrative focused on the idea of anarchy and as that task will require accounting for various developments from Proudhon’s work, some genuinely obscure figures may seem, at least at times, to have “equal billing.” Expect a fair amount of coverage of movements like freethought and spiritualism, which would supply the anarchist movement with recruits in the next phase.

This section ends with the events at the Chicago Haymarket, just a few years after the real establishment of the movement and ideologies explicitly associated with anarchism. In the concluding section, we’ll be looking forward to a new influx of soon to be prominent anarchists, but also to various internal critiques.

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III. — A Braided Stream (1886–1914)

Max Nettlau, E. Armand, Ricardo Mella, Sébastien Faure, Voline, Voltairine de Cleyre, Benjamin R. Tucker, Ravachol, Fernand Planche, Emma Goldman, Alexander Berkman, Louise Michel, Lizzie M. Holmes, Dyer D. Lum,


Summary of previous volumes:

Prologue:

EPISODES:

From the aftermath of the Haymarket events to the beginning of WWI.

Epilogue


Max Nettlau described the period between 1886 and 1894 as the first “heyday of anarchy.” Certainly, the events of Haymarket provded an energy and visibility to the anarchist movement that is hard to deny. But if the anarchist movement blossomed in these years in terms of activity, it also experienced an enormous amout of internal conflict and questioning. The movement, in any larger sense, remained remarkably pluralistic and protean.

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IV. — Confluences (1914–1936)

Summary of previous volumes:

Prologue:

EPISODES: From the beginning of WWI through the publications of the Short History, the dictionary from the Encyclopédie anarchiste project and Fernand Fortin’s proposal for a liaison anarchiste. A final episode will probably extend the narrative to June, 1936 and end with a treatment of the article “La Liaison Anarchiste et son enterrement” (La Revue anarchiste).

Epilogue:

Conclusion: Talk of Ends and Beginnings

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V. — Alluvium (1936-present)

[At present, I have no plans to actually write a fifth volume, but I will probably be documenting some later episodes that help illuminate the earlier history.]

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SUPPLEMENTAL VOLUMES AND MATERIAL:

WHAT MUTUALISM WAS
PRECURSORS AND OUTLIERS
  • Gray Light”—Paul Brown in the New Harmony Gazette (1825–1827)
About Shawn P. Wilbur 2247 Articles
Independent scholar, translator and archivist.