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ADAMS, Jason. "Non-Western Anarchisms : Rethinking the Global Context".-1-


"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 orginal 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.

Ricardo Flores Magon

So by employing the label "Western" I am not referring to the actual history of anarchism but rather to the way in which anarchism has been constructed through the multiple lenses of Marxism, capitalism, eurocentrism and colonialism to be understood as such. This distorted, decontextualized and ahistoric anarchism with which we have now become familiar was constructed primarily by academics writing within the context of the core countries of the West : England, Germany, France, Italy, Spain, Canada, United States, Australia and New Zealand. Since there was virtually no real subversion of the eurocentric understanding of anarchism until the 1990s, the vast majority of literature available that purports to deliver an "overview" of anarchism is written in such a way that one is led to believe that anarchism has existed solely within this context, and rarely, if ever, outside of it. Therefore, the anarchism that becomes widely known is that which has come to be identified with the West, despite its origins in the East ; Kropotkin, Bakunin, Godwin, Stirner, and Goldman in first wave anarchism : Meltzer, Chomsky, Zerzan, and Bookchin in second and third wave anarchism. Rarely are such seminal first wave figures as Shifu, Atabekian, Magon, Shuzo, or Glasse even mentioned ; a similar fate is meted out for such second and third wave figures such as Narayan, Mbah, and Fernandez — all of non-Western origin. This construction of anarchism as Western has unfortunately led to an unintentional eurocentrism that has permeated the writings of many second and third wave theorists and writers. Their work then becomes the standard-bearer of what anarchism actually means to most people, as it is printed and reprinted, sold and resold perennially at anarchist bookfairs, infoshops, bookstores and other places, as it is quoted and analyzed, compared and debated in reading circles, academic papers, at socials, parties, demonstrations, meetings and on picketlines. Clearly, there has been a great deal of reverence in second and third wave anarchist movements for this "Western anarchism" — the result has been that much of anarchism has moved from being a popular tradition amongst the most exploited in societies the world over to being little more than a loose combination of an academic curiosity for elite Western academics and a short-lived rebellious phase of youth that is seen as something that is eventually, and universally, outgrown.

This paper demonstrates an alternative understanding in the hope that this fate can be overcome ; that anarchism, in the first quarter of the 20th century, was the largest antisystemic movement in almost all parts of the world, not just in the West. Upon considering that over three quarters of the global population is situated outside of the West, it quickly becomes clear that anarchism actually claimed the greatest number of adherents outside of the West rather than within it as well. Therefore, it is fair to say that not only has anarchism been a globally significant movement from its very inception, it has also been a primarily non-Western movement from its inception as well. This basic fact was reconfirmed with the rise of second wave anarchism, spanning from the late 1960s and on into the early 1970s in India, Argentina, Mexico, and South Africa (Joll, 1971, pg. 171). In turn, third wave anarchism, which has risen to popularity from the late 1990s to the present, also reconfirms this in resurgent movements in Brazil, Argentina, Korea, Nigeria and elsewhere. The relevance of this particular essay, however, is to critically reexamine the first global wave of anarchism in order to enable anarchists to think more holistically and effectively about the relevance of the past and its long-term effect on the present. This attempt to critique the narrow vision of "Western anarchism" should of course result in a more accurate understanding of the significance and potentiality of second and third wave anarchism in both the present and the future as well. Indeed, it was a similar motivation that drove the critique of Leninism / Stalinism that came out in the wake of the largely anarchist inspired events of May 1968, as well as the critique of Maoism that came in the wake of the Democracy Movement of the late 1970’s in China ; both of which contributed greatly to the development of second and third wave anarchism worldwide.

In working to critique our understanding of the past though, there are several points that should be kept in mind at all times. A cursory reading into the contextual history surrounding these waves of anarchism could easily seem be to unearthing several "historical stages." For instance one might get the impression that first wave anarchism universally fell into decline worldwide with the rise of the Bolsheviks, or that the decline of state socialism since 1989 has been the "lynchpin" that brought anarchism back in its third wave. While both statements are indeed true to a certain extent, the temptation to systematize and essentialize global social movements in order to make them easier to digest is one that should be undertaken with great care and discrimination ; indeed, often it is a step that should not be undertaken at all. The reason is that one cannot ever fully understand the nuance and complexity of the thousands of social movements that have pulsed through non-Western societies through the lens of any singular overarching theory ; even seemingly small factors of social difference can render them worthless. For instance, while anarchism declined in much of the world after the October Revolution of 1917, in large sections of the planet this was precisely the point at which anarchism rose to a level of unprecedented popularity. In these countries this was largely due to the saturation of anarchist-oriented periodicals in a particular local language — which meant of course that anarchism became the major filter for general alternative understandings of the nature of events in the world. In other words a rather minor variation in language and social conditions from one region of the world to the next rendered any broad statement on the global significance of Lenin’s rise to power completely indefensible. Or, for instance, if one was to posit that primitive communism "inevitably" has given way to feudalism, followed lockstep by capitalism, socialism and finally communism, that person would be rendering the entire history of hybrid African socialisms non-existent. These attempts at constructing universal laws in the understanding of history are the sorts of things that need to be deliberately avoided in order to understand the significance of difference in the creation of the whole. Indeed, as Theodore Adorno has shown in Negative Dialectics, it is only through negation and difference that one can conceive of the historical process in its entirety (Held, 1980, p. 205).

So, while the world has been connected on the global level for several centuries now, and there are many patterns that seem to present themselves as a result, it is important to remember that this connection has also been entirely uneven, chaotic and unpredictable. As a result, what is true for one particular region is not true for another, and what is true for a particular country within a particular region is often not true for a sub-region lying within it. Therefore universal declarations about history tend to crumble quite easily when put to the test of criticism. This critique becomes especially simple amongst the representatives of the worst of such deterministic thinking. For instance, as Sam Mbah has pointed out, many Marxist-oriented academics have even gone to such an extent as to argue that colonialism can be understood as being a "good" thing as it has allowed all parts of the world to reach the capitalist "stage" of history, a "necessary" precondition of course, to the dictatorship of the proletariat. In order to avoid this sort of univeralistic absurdity, I have chosen to focus in this paper not just on the positivism of sameness and homogeneity between disparate regions, but equally so on negation, heterogeneity and difference. That is, I attempt to discover that which makes the anarchisms of various non-Western countries, regions and subregions unique, with an eye as well to what aspects they may have in common and how they have been interconnected. It is my hope that in this choice I will have made a greater contribution to the future of the global anarchist project by consciously choosing not to define the histories of non-Western societies for them. Instead I let the individual histories speak for themselves, drawing connections where they actually exist, while allowing contradictions to arise freely as they must. I do this deliberately, as this is the approach of one who would be an ally.

Despite my decision to avoid adopting any one overarching theory, I have decided to focus primarily on one particular time period ; from the late 19th Century up until the end of the first quarter of the 20th Century. While second and third wave anarchists typically describe this time period as the being the domain of what they call "classical" anarchism I argue that anarchism has always been a decentered and diverse tradition. Rather than essentializing an entire time period as being of one persuasion or another I choose to focus instead on the primacy of contradiction and difference, using the "wave" concept as a means of understanding the wax and wane in the global spread of anarchisms rather than as a way of defining the nature of the anarchisms themselves. While this would seem to put a temporal framework over the development of a historical ideological current that is not necessarily bound by such frames, my approach in this regard is not related to the pursuit of temporal frameworks but rather to the refutation and deconstruction of the concept of "classical" anarchism as a homogenous body of thought that can be located in a specific time and place. This is because I believe that this notion of classical anarchism plays a key role in the construction of the concept of Western anarchism, as it is in the context of the West that this conception has developed and it is never in reference to non-Western anarchism that such terminology is used. Ironically, by focusing on a particular time period, I actually am attempting to deconstruct the false dichotomy of "classical" vs. "postmodern" currents of anarchism in order to show that such temporal understandings of the "progressive" development of anarchist currents are ultimately flawed. This is because they do not recognize anywhere near the full spectrum of thought that has existed on the global level in the history of anarchist ideas ; nor do they recognize the direct connections between early ideas and more recent ideas.

If "Western anarchism" is a eurocentric construction, then of course, "non-Western" must also be somewhat problematic. By employing it, I do not mean to give the impression that non-Western societies can or should be seen as some homogenous singular "world" in any sense. Nor am I implying that within the West itself there are not peoples who are originally or ancestrally of non-Western societies or that these peoples have never engaged in anarchist activity. Indeed, a more complete study of non-Western anarchisms would investigate additionally the history of anarchism amongst indigenous peoples and people of color within the borders of Western countries. However, I do make a particular point to focus on the considerable impact global migrations and the resultant ideological hybridity has had on the development of anarchism - some of this has even been within the borders of the Western countries, notably Paris and San Francisco. Another criticism that I anticipate is my inclusion of Latin America in the context of this study and what exactly the term "the West" is supposed to mean here. To this question I reply that by including Latin America I am denying that the region can be understood as being wholly a part of "the West" simply because much of the region’s populations identify strongly with the colonist culture - or perhaps it could be said that it is the colonist culture that identifies them. Rather, in the tradition of Guillermo Bonfil Batalla, I recognize the "deep" indigenous context that these largely mestizo societies were born within and the lasting impact this has had, and continues to have on these societies. In this way, Latin America can indeed be seen as being part of the context of non-Western societies. For the purposes of this study, which is to attempt to piece together a history of anarchism in those countries in which it has been largely ignored, I would define the term "the West" as essentially being comprised of Europe, Australia, New Zealand, Canada and the United States. These regions and nation-states are grouped together because they have represented the heart of world domination from the late 15th Century to the present, both in opposition to the self-determination of the rest of the world, and in opposition to the self-determination of indigenous peoples, people of color and working class people within their own borders.

All nation-states in the world are today hybrids of both Western and non-Western as the phenomenon of globalization has enforced the hegemony of the neo-liberal capitalist project the world over. This is not just a result of the force of arms : it is also because non-Western countries largely responded to encroaching domination by the Western world by both emulating it and by adopting its basic values and ideas. But what the West never counted on was that by promoting and enforcing "modernization" through the Social Darwinist cocktail of neo-liberalism, colonialism, industrialization and capitalism, they were also indirectly legitimizing the anti-Social Darwinist versions of modernization, that is to say, the socialist and anarchist projects. However, as Turkish anarchists have recently pointed out, non-Western "socialism" often fell in line with the modernization project, even allowing neo-liberal capitalist Structural Adjustment Programs. In contrast, they have pointed out that "anarchism was born of the Western and modern world, yet at the same time it was a denial of these things…anarchism was a denial of modernity and Western domination" (Baku, 2001). So throughout the world, many non-Western peoples saw their governments bowing to the pressures of the West and took the only options that came within that modernist package which seemed to offer either a modicum of liberty or equality, anarchism or socialism. In this way, it can be said that the modernist project was turned inside out and against itself by those it would intend to victimize and place under its control. This inside-out

Bhagat SINGH

modernism (or anti-modernism) was spread through the global migration of anarchists and anarchist ideas, more often than not a result of forced exile. Erricco Malatesta for instance, helped to spread anarchist communism from countries a far apart as Lebanon and Brazil, and Egypt and Cuba. Kotoku Shusui almost single-handedly delivered anarchist syndicalism to Japan after spending time organizing with the American IWW in San Francisco in 1906. And Kartar Singh Sarabha became a major influence influence on the Indian anarchist Bhagat Singh after organizing Indian workers in San Francisco in 1912.

Throughout this work, which will consider anarchism in its Asian, African, Latin American and Middle Eastern regional contexts, there are three primary areas of investigation that we are interested in. The first of these is a consideration of what specifically local social conditions lead to the rise of anarchism as an ideology and how these conditions shaped its growth into a uniquely hybrid manifestation of the world anarchist movement. The second is to map and to analyze the influence of the migrations and inmigrations of peoples and ideologies and how these differing social contexts influenced each other through a hybrid exchange. The last area of investigation, which is contained in the conclusion, is to assess which unique aspects of first wave non-Western anarchisms carried over into second wave anarchism, as well as to consider what valuable aspects of first and second wave anarchism have to the continuing anarchist project, now in its third wave.

Continued :

Asian Anarchism: China, Korea, Japan & India

African Anarchisms: Igbo, Egypt, Lybia, Nigeria and South Africa

Latin American Anarchism : Argentina, Uruguay, Brazil, Chile, Mexico and Cuba

[Middle Eastern Anarchism: Armenia, Lebanon, Turkey, Palestine

Mis en ligne par : CREAGH Ronald

Pour citer cet article :
ADAMS, Jason. "Non-Western Anarchisms : Rethinking the Global Context".-1-,
Dernières modifications : 23 avril 2015. [En ligne].
[Consulté le 19 janvier 2017]

ADAMS, Jason
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