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GOYENS, Tom. "Gemeinschaft und Revolution: The German Anarchist Movement in New York City, 1880-1914".

Tuesday 10 January 2006, by R.C.

Doctoral dissertation, Katholieke Universiteit Leuven (Belgium), October 2003

With the exception of Chicago, there are very few studies of anarchism in the American working class. The numerous books on Emma Goldman have hardly examined her multiple interventions among workers in the various American centers, nor those of Alexander Berkman. In the same way, there is no study that I know of on the impact of the Sacco-Vanzetti trial within the Jewish and other labor movements. Yet, since the times of Josiah Warren and the Sovereigns of Industry, those of William B. Green and the First International, Victory Drury and the Knights of Labor, the saga of anarchist workers in the U.S. remains to be discovered, published, filmed, painted and sung.

Even urban history has paid little attention to urban anarchist groups in various countries and almost none to those in New York city, an important center of the movement since the 1880s. And since German-American immigrants played an important role in many trades within the labor movement, an analysis of anarchist workers is most useful.

German-American anarchism represents an influential chapter in the history of German immigration in the U.S. Apart from a few comments by Emma Goldman and some books of questionable value on Johann Most, there has hardly been any information on the rank and file and little mention of Austrian anarchists in the United States.

Justus H. Schwab’s saloon in New York
Richard BONFILS, Project for a comic strip. Text by Ronald CREAGH

German anarchists rejected change through mainstream poliical channels and therefore had to find other ways of changing society. It was assumed that the forces of wealth and power would not accept any peaceful transformation that would eliminate their privileges. Furthermore, the quest for a qualitatively different, non-capitalist society based on mutual aid, equality and solidarity introduced a dichotomy that excluded any discussion of participation in unions and other workers organizations. It would be several decades before other meaningful alternatives would be put into practice: coops, mutualism, alternative schools and education, communes. And only half a century later would there be a serious questioning of daily power relations, including patriarchy and ethnocentrism, both in society at large and within militant groups.

One of the greatest merits of this work is its cartography of the New York movement. The author’s collection of maps of saloons and lecture halls will remain a lasting point of reference for future research on the New York area. It is not a simple reproduction of other works but an original creation. Thus the inventory of ghroups has brought to light the existence o little-kown or even unknown groups, such as the German anarchist commune in Connecticut. And this original study of German saloon culture shows the manner in which saloons played the role of safe havens for subordinate groups and spheres for free discussion and action.

Ronald Creagh