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Paul Avrich (1931-2006) is dead

category international | history of anarchism | news report author Wednesday February 22, 2006 18:06author by Marianne Enckell - Centre International de Recherches sur l'Anarchisme (CIRA) Report this post to the editors

Paul Avrich died in New York on the morning of the 17th February 2006 after a long illness. While an exchange student in the USSR, Paul uncovered the Kronshtadt insurrection and the role of anarchists in the Revolution. He was to produce several works based on this information, works which, while controversial, were pioneering.

Paul Avrich (1931-2006)

Paul Avrich died in New York on the morning of the 17th February 2006. For some years he had been victim to that terrible illness that so often strikes the minds and intellects of our elderly.

Paul was of a Jewish family originally from Odessa and was able to so to the USSR to study as a result of Nikita Kruschev's visit to the United States in 1959 where he not only banged his shoe but also authorised student exchanges. It was there that Paul uncovered the Kronshtadt insurrection and the role of anarchists in the Revolution, while he was working on his thesis ("The Russian Revolution and the Factory Committees", 1961). He was to produce several works based on this information, works which, while controversial, were pioneering. He was also to acquire a previously unknown but lasting affection and sense of solidarity with anarchists as people, rather than as militants.

And this is what he sought to teach his students at Queens College in New York throughout his active life, despite initial opposition from the university authorities. The development in the United States of historical research on anarchism is without doubt partially due to "Uncle Paul's lovely stories". Indeed, he loved nothing better than to talk to people and encourage them to talk, and was not of the generation that had learnt to combine history, sociology and anthropology. He could also read without any difficulty most European languages, including Russian and Yiddish, something which gave his work a certain depth.

Having dealt with the Russian anarchists, he proceeded to work on the history of the anarchist movement in the United States, dividing it into several thematic areas: Voltairine de Cleyre first, then the Modern Schools inspired by Francisco Ferrer, the Chicago tragedy of 1886, Sacco and Vanzetti, the Jewish anarchists, immigrants and refugees. His last important work gathered two hundred interviews made over a period of thirty years, "a source of incomparable value for future researchers... But oral history cannot replace conventional history, which must be attested by written documents... Memories often have gaps, and mistakes can be made", as he wrote in the preface to these "anarchist voices" comprising hundreds of notes and a gigantic index. He has allowed these "anonymous" militants to avoid oblivion, opening the way for innumerable works of research and reflection.

Paul Avrich was a faithful friend of the CIRA and contributed generously to its finances and its collections (after one of our last meetings he supported the Russian publication of Volin and offered a preface). He was a trusted friend to many of the older members of our movement, putting them in touch with each other, following their reunions, visiting them regularly - and watching them depart from this life, one after another. Without him, much of what is remembered by the movement would be lost.

Marianne Enckell

Translation by ainfos

Principal works by Paul Avrich:

The Russian anarchists. Princeton University Press, 1967; re-edition 1978 (Les Anarchistes russes; translated by Bernard Mocquot. Paris: Maspero, 1979; other translations in Japanese, Spanish and Italian).

Kronstadt, 1921. Princetown: Princetown University Press, 1970 (La Tragédie de Cronstadt, 1921; translated by Hervé Denès. Paris: Seuil, 1975; other translations in Spanish and Czech).

Russian Rebels, 1600-1800. New York: Schocken Books, 1972.

The Anarchists in the Russian Revolution. New York: Cornell University Press, 1973 (Gli anarchici nella rivoluzione russa; translated by Michele Buzzi. Milano: La Salamandra, 1976).

The history of the anarchist movement in the United States, published by Princeton University:

  • An American Anarchist: The Life of Voltairine de Cleyre, 1978.
  • The Modern School Movement: Anarchism and Education in the United States, 1980.
  • The Haymarket Tragedy, 1984.
  • Anarchist Portraits, 1988.
  • Sacco and Vanzetti, The Anarchist Background, 1991.
  • Anarchist Voices: An Oral History of Anarchism in America, 1995.
My thanks to Federico Arcos for giving me the sad news and for helping me with the bibliography.

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author by Mike Goodmanpublication date Thu Mar 02, 2006 15:48author email michaelgoodman at xtra dot co dot nzReport this post to the editors

Thank you Marianne for your posts on Paul Avrich.
It is sad day for us all to hear of Paul's passing,but also a joy to have had him among us and for his life's work which has enriched us all with a treasure house of shared memories and stories from our history.
How much I enjoyed reading the Russian Anarchists and Oral Voices among others.Inspiring.
Thanks indeed Paul for your labours and your humanity...
For a free society,
Mike(New Zealand)

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