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Anarchism and Syndicalism in the Colonial and Postcolonial World

category international | history of anarchism | opinion / analysis author Thursday October 13, 2011 18:42author by Dmitri - MACG (personal capacity)author email ngnm55 at gmail dot com Report this post to the editors

Steven Hirsch and Lucien Van Der Walt (eds), Anarchism and Syndicalism in the Colonial and Postcolonial World, 1870-1940 "The Praxis of National Liberation and Social Revolution", Foreword by Benedict Anderson

* This presentation published in “Rebel Worker” paper of the Anarcho-Syndicalist Network (Sydney, Australia), Vol.30/3 (issue 211) October-November 2011, p. 15-15. The Greek translation has been published here

This book attempts a first historical and theoretical approach to detecting anarchist and syndicalist ideas on a range of countries and regions around the world which were under colonial occupation and power between the last decades of the 19th and the almost half of the 20th century. It is a project adopted by the Leiden Publishing House in 2010, initially as an academic work, and in which the authors of the various articles consisted this volume are attempting, in my opinion, a successful in all cases presented, to link the development of anarchist, anarcho-syndicalist and revolutionary syndicalist ideas and practices with the question of national liberation, the overthrow of colonial and authoritarian institutions and powers and the establishment of local communities that rely as much as possible to libertarian ideas and practices.

The book is an excellent collection of narratives from the anarchist and syndicalist resistance to globalisation first attempt by the block of authoritarian and imperialist development (1870-1930) and goes beyond the usual Western European tradition, which until now have been hidden or concealed the transnational links between movements of various countries and regions of the planet and the fact that during the first decades of the 20th century, outside the known cases of Western Europe existed big, solid and quite constructive anarchist and syndicalist movements which influenced largely the social, political and economic developments in regions such as Africa, Asia, Latin America and Eastern Europe.

In spite of what is believed within extensive cycles of the radical left, and even a significant part of the anarchist movement, that anarchism was developed only in Western Europe and North America, this book is a solid proof that anarchism and revolutionary syndicalism appear within the First International and until the first decades of the 20th century been formed and developed as a transnational movements not as characteristics of a single country or a region, isolated from the global political and other developments of their respective times.

Of course, the authors do not deny that anarchism began in Western Europe. But that was because of capitalism and industrialisation started from there and so was the reaction to them, through the sequential development of liberals and other progressive ideas developed in Marxism and Anarchism, ideological formations that spread around the world associated with local social and other conditions. This is made possible through the migration due to the repression, persecution and even the bad social, political and other conditions. For example, Spanish anarchists emigrated and acted as a catalyst in the development of anarchist and union movements in a number of countries in Latin America and the Caribbean, Italian anarchists acted decisively in Egypt and Argentina, Chinese and Korean anarchists and radicals had an impact on Japan while various European revolutionary workers settled in South Africa where they also had a catalytic presence.

But focusing on all those neglected, little-known or, for the most part, unknown to English-speaking readership, historical dimensions of the anarchist and trade union movement, the authors of the different chapters of this book attempt to give as relief the transnational, global dimension of these movements and their central role in local anti-colonisation and anti-imperialist struggles. To accomplish this, the authors are moving to a detailed analysis of ideas, the whole structure and practice of anarchism and syndicalism, also giving us a completely new approach by which we are now in a position to learn how to organize our own movements at present and in the near future.

Note also that in several regions of the world the ideas of class struggle anarchism affected and influenced the ideas of the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW) as the syndicalist ideas of a marxist origin (DeLeon's) and "indigenous" traditions of struggle and anti-colonisation struggle and the libertarian or anti-authoritarian influenced trade union movements that developed in the oppressed nations much more than those in Western Europe.

Through the chapters of the book three major tendencies regarding the issue of national liberation within the larger anarchist movement are appearring.

The first tendency was against national independence by simply considering it useless and meaningless, dominated only by narrow nationalist characteristics and expressed mainly by a significant minority of the Cuban anarchist movement at a time when Cuba was fighting for independence from Spain. Today this trend continues to influence some anarchists from Western Europe and U.S. and some anti-statist marxist groups.

The second tendency was believing the opposite, adopting and nationalistic elements, but by a progressive approach. This tendency saw that nationalism and national liberation are going side by side but in a progressive direction. Mostly Korean and Chinese anarchists influenced by this tendency, although we can say that such views lead up in right-wing and anti-communist views (eg. China).

The third tendency, according to the authors, was the most important and faced the question of national liberation as a real and necessary part of the human liberation. Its devotees thought that one can not fight only for national liberation while ignore the broader social struggle.

In fact, these three approaches are the three main approaches to any kind of popular struggle of the anarchists, even today. For example, for the unions there are three opinions among anarchists: a) ignore them, b) participate to them as organisers but beyond every political trend, and c) be actively involved through the creation of unions and the adoption of increasingly revolutionary policies of unions. In my opinion, the third position is the most revolutionary one because it avoidws the development of sectarian and opportunist views.

All the chapters that composed this book, showing that the anarchist and revolutionary syndicalist movements have developed and implemented ideas and always taking into account the broader colonial context prevailed at the time and in which they acted on specific countries. That is, they did not engage in a sterile and narrow workerist logic and action, but saw and tried to develop the daily syndicalist and revolutionary struggle as an integral part of the broader anti-colonial and anti-imperialist struggle through and by which they hoped to lay the groundwork for creating a libertarian, egalitarian society.

The book begins with an extensive foreword by academic and professor at Cornell University (U.S.A.) Benedict Anderson (whose most important work is the widely read and translated into several languages “Imagined Communities”).
The book is composed in Two Parts, describing the birth and development of anarchist and trade union movement in the colonial world, and the same movements in post-colonial world, always, as we said, according to the general anti-colonial and anti-imperialist struggle.

The First Part consists of six comprehensive Chapters, of which the First Chapter deals with the development of anarchist ideas in Egypt during the period 1860-1940 and is written by Anthony Gorman. The Second Chapter describes the relationship between the communist, anarchist and trade ideas in South Africa in the period 1886-1928 and is written by Lucien Van Der Walt. The Third Chapter deals with the anarchist movement in Korea to both national and transnational dimension, and is written by Dongyoun Hwang. The Fourth Chapter sets out aspects of the anarchist movement in China and is written by the most knowledgeable of the subject Arif Dirlik. The Fifth Chapter conversing with the famous anarchist communist Makhnovist movement in Ukraine from 1917 to 1921 and is written by Russian historian Alexandr Shubin, while the Sixth Chapter traces the libertarian approach to the movement of industrial unionism in Ireland and is written by Emmet O'Connor.

The Second Part of the book consists of five Chapters, of which the First Chapter, written by Steven Hirsch, give details of the history of the anarcho-syndicalist movement in Peru during the period 1905-1930. The Second Chapter, written by Kirk Shaffer, converses with the anarchist movement in the Caribbean, Mexico and southern U.S. States. The Third Chapter, written by Geoffroy de Laforcade, describes the anarchist and revolutionary syndicalist movement within the dockers of Argentina during the period 1900-1930. The Fourth Chapter, co-written by Edilene Toledo and Luigi Biondi, gives a compelling evidence for the multinational anarcho-syndicalist movement in Sao Paulo, Brazil from 1895 to 1935 and, finally, the Fifth Chapter, which is the concluding book, co-written by Steven Hirsch and Lucien Van Der Walt, gives us the vicissitudes of movements in the countries and regions of the world described in the preceding chapters and attempts a summary and an initial conclusion.

As we see, the only Western country the syndicalist movement of which presented here is Ireland. This country was the first British colony in which no a specific anarchist movement developed ever, but it had a major trade union movement with developed ideas of radical and revolutionary syndicalism.

The book, which is quite expensive, expected in 2012 (if I'm not mistaken) to be released outside of narrow academic circles.

Dimitri Troaditis
(MACG – personal capacity)

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