“The future of anarchism must be appraised within a global context; any attempt to localize it is bound to yield a distorted outcome. The obstacles to anarchism are, in the main, global; only their specifics are determined by local circumstances.”
- Sam Mbah
“To the reactionists of today we are revolutionists, but to the revolutionists of tomorrow our acts will have been those of conservatives”
- Ricardo Flores Magon
The purpose of this paper is to help anarchist / anti-authoritarian movements active today to reconceptualize the history and theory of first-wave anarchism on the global level, and to reconsider its relevance to the continuing anarchist project. In order to truly understand the full complexity and interconnectedness of anarchism as a worldwide movement however, a specific focus on the uniqueness and agency of movements amongst the “people without history” is a deeply needed change. This is because the historiography of anarchism has focused almost entirely on these movements as they have pertained to the peoples of the West and the North, while movements amongst the peoples of the East and the South have been widely neglected. As a result, the appearance has been that anarchist movements have arisen primarily within the context of the more privileged countries. Ironically, the truth is that anarchism has primarily been a movement of the most exploited regions and peoples of the world. That most available anarchist literature does not tell this history speaks not to a necessarily malicious disregard of non-Western anarchist movements but rather to the fact that even in the context of radical publishing, centuries of engrained eurocentrism has not really been overcome. This has been changing to an extent however, as there here have been several attempts in just the past decade to re-examine this history in detail in specific non-Western countries and regions, with works such as Arif Dirlik’s Anarchism in the Chinese Revolution, Sam Mbah’s African Anarchism and Frank Fernandez’ Cuban Anarchism. It is within the footsteps of this recent tradition that this paper treads further into the relatively new ground of systematically assessing, comparing and synthesizing the findings of all of these studies combined with original investigation in order to develop a more wholly global understanding of anarchism and its history. To begin our inquiry we first must make clear what it is that is actually meant by the term “Western anarchism.” Going back to the debates within the First International, it quickly becomes apparent that this term is a misnomer, as it is actually the opposite case that is true; anarchism has always been derived more of the East / South than of the West / North. As Edward Krebs has noted “Marx (and Engels) saw Russianness in Bakunin’s ideas and behavior” while “Bakunin expressed his fears that the social revolution would become characterized by ‘pan-Germanism’ and ‘statism.’” This debate has led some to characterize it as largely between Western and Eastern versions of socialism; one marked by a fundamental commitment to order and the other marked by a fundamental commitment to freedom (1998, p. 19). So in this sense anarchism can be understood as an “Eastern” understanding of socialism, rather than as a fully Western tradition in the usual sense of the term. At the same time it should be remembered that there also developed an extremely contentious North / South split between the more highly developed nations of England and Germany and the less developed semi-peripheral nations of Spain, Italy and others. This split was based on differences of material reality but developed largely along ideological lines, with the northern Anglo-Saxon nations siding primarily with Karl Marx and the southern Latin nations siding with Mikhail Bakunin (Mbah, p. 20). So in both the East / West and the North / South sense, anarchism has often been the theory of choice for the most oppressed peoples; particularly in those societies whose primarily feudal nature writes them out of historical agency in the Marxist understanding of the world. This may explain a good deal of why anarchism became so popular throughout Latin America, and why immigrating anarchists from the Latin nations of Europe were so well received in country after country that they visited, attempting to spread the anarchist vision.