Monday, November 19, 2012

Anarchist Movement Mobilization and Decline

As an internationalist movement opposed to borders, we expected localized anarchist movements to articulate their opportunity structure in global terms. Many of the opportunities mentioned by the case study histories concerned opportunities that either happened outside of their country or events that were shared experiences across multiple countries. Consequently, we found less evidence for individual country-specific opportunities, but rather common opportunities available to many countries’ movements. This does not mean that all countries experienced these global opportunities in the same way, as we will discuss. See Table 1 for details regarding what phenomena or events were cited for each country, whether the phenomena were considered to lead to mobilization or decline for the movements, and a categorization of the phenomena as political, cultural, or economic.[i]

[Table 1 not included here]

The A-Infos histories of many countries reflected common themes, particularly the importance of deprivation, the political Left and Bolshevism, international interaction, and punk. Repetition of these themes indicates a shared, cross-national narrative of opportunity or an actual universal character for certain anarchist movement opportunities. While each country-based movement developed in an interaction with global phenomena and local factors, most opportunities were not wholly derived from domestic conditions. Instead, modern anarchists seem to be describing global opportunities that are said to have benefited many country’s anarchist movements concurrently. This finding is particularly striking given the enormous diversity of the nations that comprised our sample.

One of the first opportunities noted in the A-Infos histories is something not often considered to be a movement “opportunity”: deprivation. As Giugni (2008) has suggested, the discursive context in which movements exist can be important for movement success. If movement actors collectively define something to be beneficial for them (even post-hoc, decades later), it may be interpreted as having a motivational influence upon later movement activity and success.[ii] Thus, subjective opportunities can include dynamics that would not otherwise be considered “open” opportunities, such as grievances or deprivation. The A-Infos histories for Greece and Japan indicate that poor socio-economic conditions in countries were factors influencing the growth and influence of anarchism, particularly in early anarchist history. With many Left movements, poverty and social injustice is framed as a barrier for movements to overcome. But for anarchism, these ills are defined as systemic problems derived from hierarchical institutions, such as capitalism, the state, patriarchy, and the like, so that anarchist analyses frame institutions as creating deprivation, which in turn can give rise to anarchist movements. For example, Fragos and Sotros (2005) assert that “Greek anarchism first appeared during the last quarter of the 19th Century as a result of the then unfavourable economic and social conditions of poverty, distress and the dependance (sic) of the country on European capital”. What is deemed “unfavorable” for people is actually very favorable for anarchist movement formation, according to these insiders. Likewise, the deprivation affiliated with war was a major factor in fostering anarchist movement development in Japan:
The Russo-Japanese war of 1904-05 was a major event that led to the emergence of the first Japanese anarchists. At the time many Japanese people had converted from Shinto and Buddhism to Christianity, yet they supported the imperialist nature of the war as a way of integrating themselves with the state. It was those who were determined to resist both the state and the war that turned elsewhere for political inspiration, thus laying the foundations for the Japanese anarchist movement (WSM 2008).
Also of particular note in the A-Infos histories is the repeated reference to other Left movements. Anarchism was often largely indistinguishable from the militant labor movement that thrived within industrializing economies throughout the world, but especially in Europe (Levy 2004). Anarcho-syndicalism became a vibrant tendency within organized labor and it was viewed as an alternative to union-led social democratic parties and Marxist vanguardism (Schmidt & van der Walt 2009). As such, anarchism thrived outside of the formal realms of political power, taking energy from the masses of working class laborers. Mobilization opportunities were also provided by active labor and anarchist movements outside of each country. For example, Bolivia's anarchist movement was enhanced by cross-border interaction with neighboring countries, specifically Argentina and Brazil (Simon 1946):
The [May 1st Workers Union] probably owes itself, because of its geographic location, to the influence of the anarchist movement in Argentina. The second source of introduction of anarchist ideals in Bolivia stems from the forced emigration of more than 4,000 Bolivian workers to the salt mines in northern Chile, where a strong anarcho-syndicalist movement developed. These workers spread out from the mines into the countryside and the cities carrying newspapers, books and ideas that changed the ideological landscape at the time. This process culminated in 1927 with the appearance of the Local Workers Federation (FOL) which brought together the five most combative, militant unions in La Paz [the Bolivian capital city]… This experience, with many difficult ups and downs up until 1956, has a key importance in the history of syndicalism (IBM 2002).
International interaction was also cited as an opportunity in pre-WWI Japan. For example, “In the [United] States, [the exiled anarchist] Kotoku was influenced by many different things, such as his new found correspondence with [the Russian anarchist] Kropotkin. He translated the [book] Conquest of Bread into Japanese, which was then distributed clandestinely among [Japanese] workers and students” (WSM 2008). From the 1890s through the 1910s, anarchism spread far and wide, not just throughout Western Europe and North America, but also colonies and former colonies, including Argentina, Cuba, Egypt, and South Africa (Adams 2002). More recently, the Venezuelan El Libertario newspaper has established international connections helping to grow its national movement (Nachie 2006).

Two major world events in the 1910s halted the further expansion of anarchism: state repression and the Bolshevik victory in Russia. In Japan, state repression all but ended anarchist activity during WWI. Mass imprisonment and even state execution drove remaining anarchists underground or to exile abroad:
Some unions opted solely for anarchism and grew in number, more journals and newspapers were established and the movement gained huge momentum. Unfortunately, the government then regained control by sentencing more than 7,000 people to life imprisonment for almost any radical involvement (WSM 2008).
Thus, state repression was experienced as a barrier to opportunity in Japan, while it was a positive opportunity for Greek and Czech anarchists, as reflected in Table 1.

The repression in Japan actually began prior to the war with the Japanese state’s discovery of an anarchist bombing campaign plan (Crump 1993). Assassination attempts or “propaganda by the deed” may be viewed as radical desperation during the end of a protest cycle (Tarrow 1998). Similarly, in 1919 and 1923 Czech anarchists attempted assassinations of prominent political figures, including the Prime Minister. Although neither attempt was successful, the movement faced intense repression, a loss of legitimacy in the public, and the first Czech fascist organization was founded in response (Slaèálek 2002).[iii] An earlier assassination of two capitalists led to harsh repression in Greece (A. Gallery 1982). The repression by the state and by capitalist forces can be interpreted as a response to the increasing victories of anarchist-led labor struggles and the political elite’s need to restrict revolutionary change for the preservation of the system.[iv]

Contrary to the standard interpretation of PO theory, state repression did not always lead to a decline in anarchism. According to Slaèálek (2002), repression actually positively influenced the movement in the Czech Republic:

A considerable importance had also a movement of the nationally and socially radical youth around the magazine Omladina (The Youth). In February 1894, 68 of those were sentenced to a short-term prison. By that, many of them got radicalised and reassured in their anarchistic conviction.

Much later in Greece, the Athens Polytechnic School Uprising in 1973 saw increased participation by anarchists in the struggle against the Greek military junta (Fragos & Sotros 2005). The following crack-down on student protest boomeranged against the regime and led to democratic elections the next year. As a consequence of the state’s brutal repression of the uprising, Greek law now prohibits any military or police presence on university property, thus opening greater opportunities for students (and others, like anarchists) to use universities as staging points for political protest and resistance.[v] In fact, the history of the suppressed uprising in 1973 has created a radical “meme” that replicates itself for every generation of youth who have regularly revolted in the same neighborhoods of Athens, thereby providing anarchists with annual opportunities for protest (Karamichas 2009). In this instance, the brutal use of repression by the junta backfired, thus creating opportunities for decades-worth of anarchist mobilization.

According to PO theory, the flip-side to state repression is an expansion of political access and civil liberties. The only country where an increase in political access is noted—outside of the post-Greek junta years—was Japan. After the state repression early in the century, Japanese anarchism disappeared. According to WSM, “[i]t wasn’t until after the Second World War that the anarchists found a real chance to organise. With Japan defeated, humiliated on the world stage and at the mercy of the Americans, the anarchists decided to form a federation in 1946”. The fall of Imperial rule coincided with the creation of a parliament and an increase in representative democracy. Coupled with the unpopular occupation of the US army, there was both new free space and cause for increased anarchist organizing, the first such opportunity for Japanese anarchist mobilization since the suppression in the 1910s (WSM 2008). This rebirth was, however, circumscribed by the Cold War, as anarchists faced the repressive occupying Supreme Command of the Allied Powers on one side and the more popular Communist Party on the other (Tsuzuki 1970). Thus, greater political opportunities in the form of a more tolerant political climate were balanced by other disadvantageous conditions.

The 1917 October Revolution in Russia affected anarchists throughout the world. For example, Japanese anarchists in the labor movement found they had to compete with reformists and pro-Bolshevik elements. By the early-1920s, those forces had squeezed-out most of the anarchist influence from Japanese unions (Crump 1993). The Socialist movement split, with anarchists (including Osugi Sakae) refusing to cooperate with Bolsheviks for multiple reasons, including anarchist unwillingness to submit to the Comintern and their own critical analysis of poor political conditions in Russia (Stanley 1978). Bolivian anarchist influence in the labor movement was likewise “displaced by the deceptive actions of the Bolshevik parties” (IBM 2002). For the Czechs, the displacement was more formalized:
In 1919, after the end of the war, a meeting (sic) of anarchists took place, where despite of (sic) the disagreement of the members, the leaders persuaded them that a (sic) it was necessary that they be united with the national socialists[vi] and dismiss the anarchistic organisation. And in fact, that was the end of the classical anarchist movement (Slaèálek 2002).
According to Fragos and Sotros (2005), after WWI in Greece “…anarchists were a rarity. The main reason for this was the almost complete domination of Marxist-Leninist totalitarianism within the working-class movement as a result of the Bolshevik coup in Russia and also of the successfully [sic] repressive and opportunistic policy of the Communist Party of Greece (KKE)”. The Communist Party emerged strong in Greece during this period and remained dominant in the labor movement until the recent period (A. Gallery 1982). After WWI and the Bolshevik Revolution, anarchism went into a period of demobilization and decline as Communism gained increased legitimacy amongst the Left as a revolutionary ideology that was perceived to be succeeding in the USSR.

After a long, multi-decade period nearly devoid of an anarchist presence, conditions gradually changed as a result of actions by the Soviet Union and its proxies throughout the world. Leftist disapproval of Marxist-Leninism, particularly following the Soviet invasion of Hungary in 1956 and disappointment with the Labour Party created positive conditions for an anarchist resurgence in Great Britain (Heath 2006) and other countries. Soviet Premier Khrushchev's acknowledgement of the horrors of Stalinism disillusioned leftists worldwide, a process that would be completed (as we shall see) with the dissolution of the USSR. The rediscovery of anarchist ideas in the 1960s can be attributed to the New Left, although this movement tended to be led more by the middle-class and educated than by the working-class as during the previous anarchist movement cycle.[vii] “This marked a break with the preceding period of “apathy” used by the old Left to explain lack of movement within the working class… A revolt, often inchoate and unarticulated, among young people against this complacency meant some were attracted to this new movement” (Heath 2006). During the period of the 1960s, the growth of anarchism ran parallel to intensified social movement struggles, including anti-colonialist movements, civil rights, and anti-war movements (especially regarding the US war against Vietnam). The British anarchist movement was rejuvenated in the early 1960s through the “ban the bomb” movement, especially the Committee of 100 (Heath 2006). This re-birth of anarchist politics surprised many observers, including esteemed anarchist historian George Woodcock (1962). While 1960s anarchism differed from classical anarchism, Lerner noted certain similarities, including an acceptance of violence, anti-majoritarianism, individual moral responsibility, radical critique of the state, and longing for a simpler life (Lerner 1970).

Perhaps the most important political opportunity enabling the dramatic mobilization of anarchism in the 1990s was created by the fall of the Soviet Union. This incredible development affected not only Russia, but former Soviet republics and Eastern Europe. Active social change organizations and movements grew as state repression declined in these countries (Ruff 1991, Tarrow 1998). This decline in repression was coupled with another important, related opportunity that fueled anarchist movements globally: the possible spectrum of radical dissent re-broadened. The demonstrable failure of state-centered socialism freed the political Left from some of its historical, totalitarian baggage. Marxist vanguardism lost credibility in the eyes of people throughout the world’s social movements, which allowed for other visions of socialism and leftism. For radicals, the political and moral failure of Marxism facilitated a greater appreciation and enhanced legitimacy for anarchist ideas and practice. For example, crumbling Communism led Czech anarchists to begin publicly organizing against the army and fascists prior to the fall of the Czech regime. The Czech A-Infos history notes that “[a]fter the fall of Bolshevik in 1989 the trockists (sic) created a free platform of the autonomous and liberal activities called Lev alternative (‘The left alternative’), in which the anarchists also participated” (Slaèálek 2002).

Anarchism seems to have prospered well in the general milieu of the radical working class movements, but in reverse proportion to the Left, particularly Marxism. The victory of Bolshevism led to anarchist decline, while mid-century disappointment with the USSR and other leftists—e.g. the Hungarian revolt in 1956—increased anarchist mobilization. The record also indicates a dramatic global boom in anarchism in the wake of the USSR’s break-up in the late-1980s and early 1990s. This supports Olzak and Uhrig’s (2001) argument that similar actors in a social movement field—in this case radical Leftists—compete for scarce resources, including members and popular support. Therefore, in times of one radical tendency’s success and legitimacy, others are diminished and vice-versa in other times.

The integration of the Eastern/socialist bloc countries into the world economy intensified global economic integration (commonly called “globalization”). This economic opportunity brought (or, perhaps, forced) social movements from disparate struggles and locations together, compelling dialogue and coordination on a wider variety of issues (Smith 2004). Capitalist integration and hegemony created resistance by those who did not benefit—primarily workers and citizens, but also the indigenous and other disenfranchised minorities. Globalization spurred an increased focus upon issues and struggles worldwide about which other activists were previously unaware or unconcerned. Institutions that drove the processes of economic globalization, particularly the World Trade Organization, World Bank, the International Monetary Fund (IMF), and the Group of Eight (G8) became the target of protests in which anarchists played a central role (Epstein 2001). This globalization of local enemies drew anarchist protest at high-profile meetings and summits that were popularly represented in the media as events overrun with the most radical of critics (anarchists) who dramatically faced the state and its repressive forces (the police). For example, the 2000 World Bank and IMF meetings were held in Prague, Czech Republic and large protests took place, including multiple marches led by or consisting of anarchists (Juris 2008, Notes From Nowhere 2003). In Bolivia, as in other places, anti-capitalist traditions were merged with a growing awareness of globalized capitalism: “Juventudes Libertarias, a group of anarchist-communists base in La Paz, has risen from a strong history of resistance to capitalism in the country” (IBM 2002).

Finally, a cultural opportunity has been offered by the musical punk subculture of the West since the late 1970s and 1980s. While punk is not explicitly “anarchist”, the opportunities offered by punk as a cultural form are undeniable. Punk scenes provided a “safe space” for anti-authoritarian politics, recruiting grounds for future anarchists, and a shared culture that could unite anarchists. As such, punk is not just a music form, but a subculture grouping and practice that rejuvenated and fed into the broader anarchist movement. In Great Britain—the birthplace of punk—anarcho-punk took a front-seat within the anarchist movement:
The beginning of the 1980s saw another upsurge in anarchism. A number of young people began to refer to themselves as anarchists. This had its origins in the birth of the punk movement in the late 70s and the influence of the Crass group (Heath 2006).
British punk dovetailed with the Stop the City protests, the confrontational Class War organization, and countless local music scenes throughout Britain (Heath 2006). This chaotic, intense, and confrontational musical form brought with it a strong anti-authoritarian impulse and DIY (“do it yourself”) ethic that mirrored the anarchist preference for “direct action”. Through these sub-cultural channels, punk rock spread anarchism throughout the world, along with references to historical anarchism, radical left-wing values, and various, relatively new concerns (such as those of the so-called “new social movements”), including anti-racism, feminism, animal liberation, environmental defense, and anti-imperialism (O’Hara 1999). Punk frequently articulated anti-authoritarian politics that were sometimes explicitly anarchist in nature. Influential anarcho-punk bands and organizations inspired punks to become active in radical politics.

Punk soon spread throughout the world, with active “scenes” found throughout Latin America, Europe, and Asia (O’Connor 2004, O’Hara 1999). With the emergence of local or national punk scenes, anarchists mobilized the energies of otherwise non-political punks. For example, punk has been so influential in Venezuela that the national anarchist movement may be separated into two groupings: that which has been fostered by anarcho-punk and that which has not. According to Nachie (2006),
“[a]lthough Venezuela has no appreciable history of explicitly-anarchist direct action and the scene is certainly less militant than others in Chile or Brazil for instance, anarcho-punk, organized or unorganized, is undoubtedly the most consolidated and publicly visible source of anarchist ideas in the country”.
Punk is also identified as an “important influence” on the re-birth of Czech anarchism (Slaèálek 2002). The influence of anarcho-punk was particularly strong after the “Velvet Revolution” that split Slovakia from the Czech Republic, with over a hundred anarchist groups in the country, many “crystallize[d] around punk and hardrock music groups” (Konvička & Kavan 1994: 175). The influence of punk on modern anarchism cannot be understated; punk cultural symbols and dress are widely represented amongst anarchists, almost to the point where the two sometimes appear to merge and become one. Yet, punk has not had a universal, dominant role in anarchist movements, as indicated by the fact that the narratives from Bolivia, Greece, and Japan did not mention punk.

[i] We coded specific opportunities that were seen as causal in a temporal sense rather than contextual/historical. For example, discussion of patterns in a country’s literature or art across centuries may have played a role in shaping the anarchist movement, but this does not represent a specific “opportunity” in the same sense that the emergence of the punk movement in music did. The Punk movement occurred at a specific point in time, which according to Heath (2006), led to an “upsurge in anarchism” in the 1980s at which point “A number of young people began to refer themselves as anarchists.” This is a specific opportunity with a defined outcome occurring at an identifiable point in time. We operationalized this example as an opportunity. In contrast, the discussion by Slaèálek (2002) of “revolts against authorities” during “the Czech Middle Ages” may be important for the context in which anarchism in that country developed in the 20th century, but we did not operationalize it as an “opportunity” because such background conditions always exist and are neither necessary nor sufficient for movement growth at a particular time point.
[ii] For example, Christiansen’s (2009) study of the contemporary Industrial Workers of the World (IWW) found that members told themselves decades-old stories about the IWW and established a direct connection with anarchism that mutually stimulated growth for both the IWW and the anarchist movement.
[iii] Dictators elsewhere did not require attempted assassinations to justify anarchist repression. For example, the Gómez dictatorship in Venezuela did not tolerate unions or anarchists during its 27 year reign from 1908 to 1935 (Simon 1946).
[iv] Sabatini (1996) argues—somewhat unconvincingly—that repression is “not very tenable as a main causal factor” in anarchist movement decline (p. 175). This “decline” occurs earlier (1900) in Sabatini’s estimation and the evidence offered earlier does not operationalize how “decline” or “repression” is measured. “Repression” is only considered in a narrow number of countries and the massive red scare of the late-1910s and early-1920s is not considered.
[v] Evidence for the importance of this protection has been shown in many instances, including the late-2008 protests following the police murder of a 15-year old Greek (Karamichas 2009).
[vi] “National socialism” here is not comparable to fascism, but rather refers to the country-based socialist parties.
[vii] Incidentally, Breines (1982) argues that anarchists and pacifists had a substantial influence on the New Left, too, including Murray Bookchin, Paul Goodman, and C. Wright Mills. Also, for more on class differences in modern anarchism, see Williams (2009).

A. Gallery. 1982. A Brief History of Anarchism in Greece. Athens: A. Gallery.
Adams, Jason. 2002. Nonwestern Anarchisms: Rethinking the Global Context. Johannesburg: Zabalaza Books.
Breines, Wini. 1982. Community and Organization in the New Left, 1962-1968: The Great Refusal. New York: Praeger.
Christiansen, Jonathan. 2009. “’We Are All Leaders’: Anarchism and the Narrative of the Industrial Workers of the World”. Working USA: The Journal of Labor & Society, 12 (3), September: 387-401.
Crump, John. 1993. Hatta Shūzō and Pure Anarchism in Interwar Japan. New York: St. Martin’s Press.
Epstein, Barbara. 2001. “Anarchism and the Anti-Globalization Movement”. Monthly Review, 53: 1-14.
Fragos, Spyros & James Sotros. 2005. “The General Social, Political and Economic Situation in Greece and the Greek Anarchist Movement”. Retrieved May 1, 2007 (
Giugni, Marco. 2008. “Welfare States, Political Opportunities, and the Mobilization of the Unemployed: A Cross-National Analysis”. Mobilization: An International Journal, 13 (3): 297-310.
Heath, Nick. 2006. “40 Years of British Anarchism”. Retrieved May 1, 2007 (
IBM. 2002. “Discussions With Bolivia’s Libertarian Youth”. Retrieved May 1, 2007 (
Juris, Jeffrey. 2008. Networking Futures: The Movements Against Corporate Globalization. Durham, NC: Duke University Press.
Karamichas, John. 2009. “The December 2008 Riots in Greece”. Social Movement Studies, 8 (3), August: 289-293.
Konvička, Libor and Jan Kavan. 1994. “Youth Movements and the Velvet Revolution”. Communist and Post-Communist Studies, 27 (2): 160-176.
Lerner, Michael. 1970. “Anarchism and the American Counter-Culture”. Government and Opposition, 5 (4), August: 430-455.
Levy, Carl. 2004. “Anarchism, Internationalism and Nationalism in Europe, 1860-1939”. Australian Journal of Politics and History, 50 (3): 330-342.
Nachie. 2006. “Notes on the Anarchist Movement in Caracas”. Retrieved May 1, 2007 (
Notes From Nowhere. 2003. We Are Everywhere: The Irresistible Rise of Global Anti-Capitalism. London: Verso.
O'Connor, Alan. 2004. “Punk and Globalization: Spain and Mexico”. International Journal of Cultural Studies, 7 (2): 175-195.
O’Hara, Craig. 1999. The Philosophy of Punk: More Than Noise. San Francisco: AK Press.
Olzak, Susan and S.C. Noah Uhrig. 2001. “The Ecology of Tactical Overlap”. American Sociological Review, 66 (5), October: 694-717.
Ruff, Philip.1991. Anarchy in the USSR. London: ASP.
Sabatini, Peter Joseph. 1996. The Marginalization of Anarchism. Unpublished dissertation. University of California, Irvine.
Schmidt, Michael and Lucien van der Walt. 2009. Black Flame: The Revolutionary Class Politics of Anarchism and Syndicalism. Oakland: AK Press.
Simon, S. Fanny. 1946. “Anarchism and Anarcho-Syndicalism in South America”. The Hispanic American Historical Review, 26 (1), February: 38-59.
Slaèálek, Ondøej. 2002. “Brief History of the Czech Anarchism”. Retrieved May 1, 2007 (
Smith, Jackie. 2004. “Exploring Connections Between Global Integration and Political Mobilization”. Journal of World-Systems Research, 10 (1): 255-285.
Stanley, Thomas A. 1978. A Japanese Anarchist's Rejection of Marxism-Leninism: Ōsugi Sakae and the Russian Revolution. Western Conference of the Association for Asian Studies.
Tarrow, Sidney. 1998. Power in Movement: Social Movements, Collective Action and Politics. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Tsuzuki, Chushichi. 1970. “Anarchism in Japan”. Government and Opposition, 5 (4), Autumn: 501-522.
Williams, Dana M. 2009 “Anarchists and Labor Unions: An Analysis Using New Social Movement Theories”. Working USA: The Journal of Labor and Society, 12 (3), September: 337-354.
Woodcock, George. 1962. Anarchism: A History of Libertarian Ideas and Movements. Cleveland: Meridian.
WSM. 2008. “WSM Talk On the history of Japanese Anarchism”. Retrieved May 1, 2007 (

No comments:

Post a Comment