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Rethinking History: The Journal
of Theory and Practice
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Social space and the practice of
anarchist history
Tom Goyens
a
a
Department of History , University of Virginia's
College at Wise , Virginia, USA
Published online: 20 Nov 2009.
To cite this article: Tom Goyens (2009) Social space and the practice of anarchist
history, Rethinking History: The Journal of Theory and Practice, 13:4, 439-457, DOI:
10.1080/13642520903292476
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Social space and the practice of anarchist history
Tom Goyens*
Department of History, University of Virginias College at Wise, Virginia, USA
This essay argues for the integration of a spatial analysis in historical
research and writing. The history of anarchism and other oppositional,
decentralized movements can be better understood when the spatial
implications of their ideological practices are critically examined. The
uses, production, and conceptualization of space and places should be
an essential dimension of historical research and interpretation.
Keywords: anarchism; social space; urban space; place; mapping;
decentralization
Introduction
1
One of the most familiar features of the contemporary anarchist movement
is the infoshop, a combination of cultural center, meeting place, and
bookshop. Some infoshops are short-lived, but others have managed to
sustain themselves for decades. In many cases, infoshop activities literally
spill out into the streets and surrounding neighborhood. They form nodes in
a network of solidarity and grassroots direct action. Infoshops themselves
are seen as forms of direct action; an inkling of anarchist living amidst a
dominant culture based on property and competition. One of Torontos
most successful infoshops was named The Anarchist Free Space (Shantz
2003), and in Britain during the 1980s, autonomy clubs emerged as part of
the social centres movement (Hodkinson and Chatterton 2006).
The idea behind the infoshop, however, is as old as the anarchist
movement itself, going back to the radical clubs of the French Revolution.
Anarchism in late nineteenth- and early twentieth-century America and
Europe certainly agitated in public campaigns sometimes with violent
results, and this image has stuck with mainstream society. But the anarchist
places that existed in most large cities have been all but forgotten. These
places served as locales of resistance during the late nineteenth century when
the United States became a breeding ground for radical philosophies at a
time when few people had made up their minds about the benets of
*Email: tg2c@uvawise.edu
Rethinking History
Vol. 13, No. 4, December 2009, 439457
ISSN 1364-2529 print/ISSN 1470-1154 online
2009 Taylor & Francis
DOI: 10.1080/13642520903292476
http://www.informaworld.com
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capitalist industrialization. But uncertainty was not tolerated forever. By the
mid-1890s, the economic and political elite succeeded in curbing a tide of
protest by implementing a politics of exclusion, drawing a line around the
good society and dismissing the outsiders (Wiebe 1967, 156). The anarchists
became outsiders recreant undesirables.
The central theme of this essay is the spatiality of anarchism, then and
now. Space and time are inextricably linked, and a geographic sensibility has
become necessary when describing human action and social relationships.
Michel Foucault (1986) hoped for a contemporary epoch of space in
scholarship in order to correct the nineteenth-century obsession with history
as temporal progress striding condently through crisis and cycle.
Philosophers and geographers such as Henri Lefebvre, David Harvey, and
others who pushed for a spatial turn in the human sciences contend that
social space is multifaceted and is produced through social practices. In
2007, this journal presented a forum on the spatiality of history spearheaded
by Philip Ethingtons thoughtful article (2007), Placing the Past and
multiple responses to it. Ethington urges historians to theorize about time
and space. He argues that all human action must exist in space, that the past
is the set of places made by human action, and history is the map of these
places (2007, 465).
Even though few historical studies exist that examine the spatial
dimension of their particular topic, historians, by closely reading sources,
can detect spatiality. Numerous exemplary studies on spatiality exist in the
social sciences, including urban studies, sociologies of crime and vagrancy,
human geography, urban planning, anthropology, and social ecology
(Amster 2004; Sharp et al. 2000; Massey 1994; Ferrell 2001a, 2001b;
Purchase 1997; Sennett 1970).
In this essay, my arguments are grounded in my research on the spaces
and places of German-speaking anarchists the rst to fashion a
revolutionary anarchist movement in the United States. However, I also
consider other anarchist movements then and now; and I draw on broader
theoretical considerations of space and place in order to venture beyond just
one location, and hopefully contribute to a discussion about the historians
craft in relation to oppositional movements. I reect on techniques available
to the historian that allow narrative to be grounded in space, places, or
geography without neglecting motion and change over time. Spatial and
temporal dimensions must coexist within the historical narrative and no
subordination of one to the other is needed. Time, as Ethington states, may
simply be a culturally specic reading of the dynamic environment so that
change should be seen as occurring through space, not time (2007, 471). The
process whereby historians integrate insights from source evidence into a
coherent narrative will have to include a sensitivity to change through
space, a realization that the history of human action always stands in
relation to the natural environment.
440 T. Goyens
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Why urban anarchists?
Oppositional groups such as anarchists are better understood when we
examine their spatial practices. Indeed, Lefebvre (1974, 33) insists on a
symbiotic relationship between social agents and space, and elaborates on
this with the notion of spatial practice, the production of spaces which
always contains an element of performance. Social space, according to
Mark Gottdiener, arises from practice (1993, 131). Anarchism is certainly
in need of more critical scholarship, since it has often been evaluated by
outsiders, which has tended to produce distortions and stereotypes (Phillips
2003; Hong 1992). This process of marginalization, criminalization, and
occasionally demonization, was often exacerbated by isolated actions of
movement members themselves. This is true with the anarchist movement at
the end of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries where individual acts
of violence by discontented members conrmed for the mainstream the
inherent criminal nature of the entire movement (Merriman 2009; Gage
2009; Clymer 2002).
The international anarchist movement, however, was much more than
insurrectionary agitators who seemed to drive the movements public
campaign. Anarchists also built alternative communities all their own, and it
is this forgotten and under-researched dimension of anarchism that benets
most from a holistic investigation of the movement. Historian Bruce Nelson
has written (1988, 2401) about the socialist and anarchist movements in
Chicago and found that anarchists created and maintained a self-
consciously visible, vital and militant movement culture. Without its club
life, press, unions and culture, Nelson asserts, the ideology of that
movement is unintelligent. Historians should investigate social movements
literally on their own turf.
It is important to state that anarchists and socialists during the
nineteenth and early twentieth centuries were well aware of how contested
spaces could be. They may also have been aware of the connection
between ideology and spatial practices. The German anarchist movement
originated in the growing socialist movement in Imperial Germany before
the Great War. While socialism and its adherents were distrusted and
often repressed by nineteenth-century European states, their situation in
newly unied Germany during the 1870s became untenable. Germanys
project of unication was largely led by Conservative forces with
Chancellor Otto von Bismarck at the helm. After a series of attempts
on the life of the Kaiser, Bismarck uncritically blamed the socialists. In
1878, he helped pass a sweeping antisocialist law suppressing all aspects
of the movement, especially the press and the network of associations.
This law caused hundreds to leave Germany, some forcibly, and
eventually helped to create exile communities in London, Switzerland,
and the United States. A large number of German radicals who would
Rethinking History 441
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build an anarchist movement abroad came of age during this period of
state repression.
All liberationist movements face the problem of nding a place to meet,
to nurture solidarity, reciprocity, and community. In Germany during the
years of suppression (18781890) this essential spatial issue became known
at the time as Lokalfrage or locale question (Lidtke 1985). Police
surveillance and repressive action by the state forced a social movement
to reconsider its relationship with public spaces. Socialists turned to taverns
and beer halls and transformed them into places for formal activities under
the guise of lighthearted relaxation. Taverns in Germany became the only
bulwark for political freedom for the proletarians,
2
according to socialist
Karl Kautsky (Roberts 1980, 127).
However, socialists and anarchists grew apart and by 1880 formed two
distinct movements based on unbridgeable dierences in ideology and
practice, both in Europe and America. This historical split (often falling into
open hostility) is crucial for crafting a spatial analysis. Socialists do not
ignore the state; they participate in representational politics, which provides
an outlet for their ideas. Anarchists shun ocial channels and deny the
legitimacy of bourgeois institutions. I argue that anarchist meeting places
therefore assume, for anarchists, a much more important role in the running
and conception of the movement simply on account of their rejectionist (but
not wholly negative) philosophy. In other words, anarchists may very well
experience their political identity in more spatial ways than socialists
because the latter live and experience their ideology also on a temporal plane
with the preparation and anticipation of elections accompanied by dead-
lines, expectations for the future, and oce term limits. This is not to say
that urban anarchists were wholly isolated from the outside world by their
own volition. Anarchists need their places to be more wholesome and
sustainable for they are the new society in miniature.
The historian as cartographer or choreographer?
If the past only occurs in space, then the historians work of recovery,
reconstruction, and interpretation resembles that of a cartographer. The
sense of time, the temporal vector of human aairs is simply reected or
inscribed in space. But historian Thomas Bender (2007) in his commentary
on Philip Ethingtons article Placing the Past, criticized the mapmaker
analogy because it renders the human past too static as if anchored to a xed
geography at a xed time. This obfuscates the historians main task: to
produce a narrative of motion in space. Ethington does mention the work of
Georg Simmel, who insisted that all social forms are in a perpetual state of
dynamism through sites of interaction (Ethington 2007, 480). Ethington
sees in Simmels work a choreographic sensibility, which Bender thinks is a
much better metaphor. The historian cannot work with a model that only
442 T. Goyens
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addresses presence in space without what Bender calls the mobility of
history (2007, 497). Historical narrative provides the essential thrust of
motion within space, a quality that is missing from a purely cartographic
approach. Places do not move around, but history makers do, says Bender
(2007, 498). The choreographer combines a sense of space with a sense of
motion.
Discussions on the appropriate metaphor for the historian have had a
bearing on the presentation and evaluation of my own research of an urban,
immigrant anarchist movement. From 1880 to 1914, a vibrant German
anarchist movement existed in the Greater New York area, leaving for
posterity 15 German-language periodicals, personal letters, and pamphlets.
Simply listing chronological events of the movement tended to isolate the
movement from the rest of New Yorks geopolitical reality. In other words,
my own evolving education about my subject inadvertently detached itself
from its spatial moorings.
An examination of anarchist periodicals changed my perspective. A
typical movement paper consisted of two sections. The rst was devoted to
articles, opinion pieces, and news. The second, which initially seemed of
secondary importance, consisted of announcements and advertisements
pertinent to the movement. These announcements proved to be a gold mine.
Over 80 anarchist groups in New York alone, ranging from agitation clubs
and reading clubs to theater troupes, rie clubs, and musical associations,
regularly announced events by listing locations, often with directions on
how to get there. An announcement for a picnic to be held on Staten Island,
for example, might suggest which ferry to take, or in which saloon advance
tickets were available. Announcements for weekly club meetings might
specify not only addresses but also the block of the meeting place.
Nearly 200 German beer halls associated with the movement have been
identied in the greater New York City area in addition to large lecture halls
rented for intergroup celebrations or protest meetings (Goyens 2007). In
order to visualize the movements spatial existence, I mapped these locations
using a street-map software program that allowed for specic searches of
addresses (see Figure 1). Naturally, the location of house numbers has
changed, but only slightly. The occasional block information in some
announcements acted as a test of approximate accuracy.
For now, this method remains strictly cartographic, but some important
insights did emerge. Nearly every German-speaking anarchist settled among
his or her compatriots in the ethnic enclave known as Little Germany in the
Lower East Side of Manhattan (Nadel 1990). It is perhaps not so self-
evident that German anarchists would settle among their countryfolk, but
they did. German Catholics, for example, lamented the presence of godless
cousins in their midst (Lapham 1977, 70). There was, as the cartographic
method showed, no anarchist neighborhood per se, only clusters of
anarchist meeting places sprinkled across the larger German district. It is
Rethinking History 443
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444 T. Goyens
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important to state that these meeting places mostly beer-hall backrooms
were indeed anarchist places, not socialist.
Mapping meeting places of German anarchists in the ethnic neighbor-
hoods of New York, Brooklyn, and northern New Jersey also revealed what
Robert E. Park called an ecology of the modern city. As one of the pioneer
scholars of the urban condition, Park is of particular interest here because he
penned much of his ideas (in 1916), only slightly after immigrant anarchists
were fashioning their own spheres within the city. His ecology of the city
consisted of separate moral worlds coexisting along class and ethnic lines.
He believed that this mosaic of little worlds inuenced the emotional
experience of city dwellers (1969, 126). Anarchists inhabited just such a
world, a moral space with little interpenetration from other worlds.
Anarchists, in other words, had their own moral climate (1969, 126).
But mosaics and maps reect static space. Motion and narrative must be
injected to make the story come alive. For example, overlapping a
geography of radicalism with other spatial practices some mappable
such as trolley and ferry lines, urban development projects, police precinct
stations, and contemporary description of the metropolis, allows for a
deeper analysis of the lived space of an oppositional movement. The
closeness of residences to the various meeting places within the neighbor-
hoods shows the movement in a largely walkable terrain.
Writing the story of the anarchist movements motion through space
its choreography requires a study of the evolution of its groups, the
cornerstone of a decentralist movement. Some groups did not last longer
than a few months owing to lack of commitment, isolation, or deliberate
choice. Some neighborhoods declined, others grew at dierent points during
a 25-year period. With enough sources, I constructed an inventory of all
groups, their locations, and their beginning and end dates. In order to
capture spatial shifts through time, I created two separate lists: one of the
number of groups founded per neighborhood for each decade from 1880 to
1914, the other of the number of groups in existence per neighborhood per
decade. This distinction allows the historian to identify elements of stability,
rate of turnover, and geographic change through time. For instance, after
1890 most newly founded anarchist groups emerged in the Yorkville (in
Manhattans Upper East Side) neighborhood, reecting a trend visible for
the entire German American community, namely a move out of the crowded
tenement districts to more liveable areas on the periphery (Goyens 2007,
150).
Contested spaces: anarchists in the urban landscape
The spatiality of an urban anarchist movement can be studied on two levels:
rst, its connections to the dominant space, and second, its uses of particular
places. This distinction between space and place has animated many
Rethinking History 445
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philosophers and social scientists. In neo-Marxist terms, space is objective
and universal, and the repository of exploitation and alienation that
overdetermines all else. Places, on the other hand, are seen as subjective and
experiential, and according to Edward Casey (1997), they are the primary
category for creative interpretations of human action. In my own research, I
take elements of both interpretations but reject a sterile determinism of
space over place. I favor David Featherstones notion of translocal
connections that integrates activities in places with the contestations of
national space or public space (2008, 4).
The oppositional nature of anarchism, its deant style, and the negative
perceptions of it by mainstream culture have all been documented. These
mainstream perceptions and values can be said to be part of a dominant
liberal-capitalist space, in which the anarchist movement receives or nds its
oppositional character. But how dominant is this space? For that, the
historian of anarchism must rst turn to anarchist ideology. Its marginal
status deserved or not is of critical importance for any interpretation or
evaluation of its past. This does not mean that anarchists now and then are
wholly detached from society, but anarchist tenets and convictions have
circumscribed the movement to some extent as one would expect. What then
is the connection between ideology and spatial practices?
Decentralization is one of the central tenets of anarchism and provides it
with an essential spatial awareness. It is the idea of multiplying nodes of
decision-making and thereby reducing signicantly the potential for coercive
and abusive power. Anarchists envision participatory democracy as
essentially decentralist. Society functions through voluntary organizations,
small councils that make decisions locally, while at the same time
cooperating with each other on a regional or even international scale. The
spatial implications of this idea come alive in the work of modern anarchist
thinkers such as Paul Goodman and Colin Ward, who contend that a
decentralized society already exists and that what is necessary is to extend
these practices and relationships until they cover all of human society.
Goodman writes that decentralization is a kind of social organization; it
does not involve geographical isolation, but a particular sociological use of
geography (quoted in Ward 1973, 245).
Decentralized modes of social organization generated vastly dierent
spatial patterns in rural Spain during the Civil War of 1936 to 1939. Myrna
Breitbart studied the spatiality of anarchist decentralism and pointed out
that existing conditions such as the traditional closeness of the Spanish
people to their localities helped to pave the way for the implementation of
communal agriculture and nonhierarchical, federalist forms of civic life.
Spanish anarchism during this period still provides the best example of a
functional anarchist organization in a relatively large area. Anarchists
adopted a federalist model whereby autonomous localities are linked to
regional centers through intermediaries or delegates without obstructing the
446 T. Goyens
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independence of local federations. This enabled them to break down the
isolation and divisions among working people that had existed under a
centralized system. A social revolution which began by initiating change in
people, writes Breitbart, thus ended up creating a signicantly new
environment
3
(1980, 114).
Immigrant anarchists in the United States also set up a decentralized,
federalist network of groups. Since the 1870s, Germans formed the largest
contingent of anarchists in the United States, but not until the arrival of
Freiheit editor and rebrand Johann Most in New York in 1882 was a
proposal for a federative network advanced. At a congress in Pittsburgh in
1883, Most and others drafted a manifesto for a nonauthoritarian
organization based on anarchist principles. The Pittsburgh Manifesto
outlined a blueprint for the formation of autonomous groups, an
Information Bureau, and the endorsement of anarchist papers as ocial
mouthpieces of the movement. Key objectives included gender and race
equality, and cooperative production and exchange.
The newly formed International Working Peoples Association (IWPA)
exemplied the federalist principle (no central authority) by acting as an
umbrella organization for completely autonomous groups. In cities where
more than one group existed, a General Committee to coordinate joint
actions was formed. The IWPAs Information Bureau had no executive
powers but facilitated communication between the often polyglot groups,
and also served as an archive for the movement. The center of activity,
though, remained located within the local group with memberships ranging
from a dozen to one hundred each.
Furthermore, the IWPA was international in scope. Anarchist news-
papers edited in the United States were smuggled into Europe, and for a
while most subscribers to Freiheit, the paper edited by Most in New York,
were European activists. An alternative and international (or transnational)
network thus existed within a dominant, capitalist space. The two spheres
were interrelated because all anarchist groups formed under IWPA
guidelines were located in industrial areas or large cities, reecting the
spatial reality of industrial capitalism. Also, communications occurred
through the postal service, which was controlled from above.
Placing anarchist forms of organization in a spatial context raises the
diculty of assessing how successful anarchists really were in revolutioniz-
ing dominant space. Neo-Marxist thinkers such as David Harvey contend
that working-class movements are, in fact, generally better at organizing in
and dominating place than they are at commanding space (1989, 236).
Harvey cites various nineteenth-century revolutions the Paris Commune of
1871 and the 1877 railroad strike in the United States that failed to control
national space, which remained the purview of the bourgeoisie. Harveys
assessment holds true for the anarchist movements, but one can still
question his stark dichotomy between space and place. There is no doubt
Rethinking History 447
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that the international anarchist movement faced serious geographic
constraints, but resistance was not necessarily thought of by anarchists as
a sustained program or conquest. Resistance could be sporadic, disguised,
and networked.
David Featherstone, in response to Harvey, amends the bifurcated view
of space/place and instead suggests a model of resistance conceived as
counter-global networks that function as eective spaces for subaltern
political activity (2008, 34). Anarchism in a spatial context resembles a
translocal network: the movement in New York was only one cluster wired
to a larger network. Indeed, the international anarchist movement
consciously transcended and deed national boundaries it became a
practitioner of translocality. For example, newspapers were smuggled across
national borders changing hands from one operative to the next, who then
disseminated the information through a regional network of groups or cells.
The letterbox and receipts sections of anarchist papers constitute a veritable
window into a networked, alternative often oppositional space. Harveys
observation about marginally successful oppositional politics may be
correct, but as Featherstone points out, space (as juxtaposed to place)
may not always function as such a deterministic category.
The anarchist community network in the New York area existed within
an urban space in which it was somewhat integrated. The citywide network
was nourished by itinerant speakers, cultural activities, occasional solidarity
strikes, and, of course, the movement press. Anarchists both contributed
and were aected by the citys extraordinary (capitalist) development during
the Gilded Age. New York outpaced the rest of America with Chicago
barely keeping up. It was the center for commerce, nance, media, and
entertainment. Its physical layout, its grid of streets and avenues, parks,
bridges, railroads, and port facilities all hardwired New York as a capitalist
space with its own values. In this context of a dominating organization of
urban space, alternative geographies obtain signicance. Even simply
nding and appropriating alternative spaces would constitute resistance.
Resistance is less about particular acts, believed Michel de Certeau, than
about the desire to nd a place in a power-geography where space is denied,
circumscribed and/or totally administered (quoted in Pile and Keith 1997,
15). However, for German immigrant anarchists resistance was certainly not
solely a desire for space, but denitely also about particular acts of rebellion.
The alternative network of urban anarchists also suggests a horizontality
that reects nonhierarchical politics. Kristin Ross, in her original spatial
examination of the Paris Commune of 1871, pointed to this feature by
linking the cultural politics of the Communes celebrated poet Arthur
Rimbaud and the Communards conception of space. The Commune,
coming on the heels of the French defeat in the Franco-Prussian war, was
transformed by Parisian workers into a leaderless commune lasting two
months before it was brutally crushed by government forces. There is an
448 T. Goyens
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abundance of literature on this seminal event, but Ross re-examined it as a
signicant spatial movement (1988, 4). One poignant illustration from 1871
is the dramatic pulling down of the Vendo me Column (glorifying
Napoleons exploits) as an attack on verticality by Commune activists
who thus inscribed in the urban landscape their anti-hierarchical ideology
(1988, 58). Urban anarchists in Gilded Age New York never took over the
metropolis, which had become vertical with skyscrapers that symbolize
modernity. Still, for American immigrant anarchists, the Commune
commemoration was a major event on their calendar when elaborate
festivals were organized in decorated lecture halls throughout cities such as
New York, Chicago, Bualo, and Philadelphia. Ross concludes that
certainly in France the Commune retained its power in the collective
memory of the generation of the 1960s, when the event was seen by many as
the rst realization of urban space as revolutionary space (1988, 4).
Anarchist utopia and pregurative politics
We can now further analyze ways in which anarchists conceived of specic
places, such as beer halls and even picnic grounds. For that we must turn
again to the tenets of anarchist philosophy and its relationship to
mainstream society.
The predominant view of anarchists in the nineteenth century was that of
unsettled malcontents violent, mentally impaired, probably foreign and
fanatical. While a few individuals may have t such a description, the
majority of anarchists were loath to commit acts of violence. The popular
image of the cloaked bomb thrower is largely a distortion resulting in what
one anarchist paper termed Anarchophobia (The Rebel, 20 October 1895).
Despite such an image, anarchist speakers found an audience during the
Gilded Age, a society so intensely stratied and unequal that a climate of
discontent and protest allowed anarchist ideas to surface and contribute to a
broad agenda of opposition. This momentum created a backlash, and, after
some crushing defeats for the labor movement during the 1890s, the
anarchists were subsequently excluded from the mainstream. But this did
not defeat them; anarchists simply went ahead to create their own
subculture.
Anarchisms view of change and organization is in part encapsulated in
the concepts of anarchist utopia and what historian Wini Breines (1989)
calls pregurative politics. Both bear directly on a spatial analysis. Utopia
is often interpreted as an unachievable, unscientic program for the future,
and utopia literally becomes no place. However, anarchists argue for a
much richer meaning of the word. From their perspective, utopia signies
no place to stand still. To claim or dene the perfect society implies too
much authority, and may in fact be delusional. Randall Amster, who has
written on contemporary anarchism, vagrancy and public spaces, writes that
Rethinking History 449
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utopia in its anarchist variety is a dynamic process and not a static place
4
(2004, 23). Anarchists, in other words, view their movement in space as a
permanent revolution, a continuing rebellion against our own tendencies
toward entrenchment and domination (2004, 234).
This discussion on the nature of utopia is not merely a sociological
argument or model imposed on historical reality. Anarchists themselves
discussed those issues in their meeting places. In 1907, a group of German
American anarchists launched a new paper, Das freie Wort (The Free Word)
in which appeared just such a debate on the nature of revolution. Abe Isaak
Jr, one of the contributors, rejected the notion of revolution as a single
cataclysmic event. Instead, he saw revolution as a long process of liberation.
The best way to achieve a free society was not waiting for the millennial
kingdom, but rather the practice of freedom in the present (Isaak Jr.
1907). This view was adopted from the philosophy of Gustav Landauer
(1978), a contemporary anarchist in Germany who spoke of revolution as
regeneration, a spiritual renewal, a process rather than an event. Behaving
dierently and deantly in relation to the state, Landauer pointed out, is
itself a revolutionary act. Anarchism for Landauer is the actualisation and
reconstitution of something that has always been present, which exists
alongside the state, albeit buried and laid waste (quoted in Ward 1973,
11).
In essence then, anarchists attempted to create a community that
contained the realization of their core principles as much as possible. The
idea was that, although a public campaign of antagonizing the state seemed
useful, a parallel, constructive activism that could build relationships outside
the system was essential. Wini Breines, speaking of New Left organizations
of the 1960s called this pregurative politics, because the ideal society was
pregured in anti-establishment forms of organizing. While struggling to
liberate the world, said Greg Calvert, a leader of Students for a Democratic
Society (SDS) during the 1960s, we would create the liberated world in our
midst. While ghting to destroy the power which had created the loveless
anti-community, we would ourselves create the community of love The
Beloved Community
5
(quoted in Breines 1989, 48).
Modern anarchist writers emerging in the 1950s and 1960s have built on
the ideas of Landauer and others. A free society cannot be the substitution
of a new order for the old order; wrote New Left forerunner Paul
Goodman, it is the extension of spheres of free action until they make up
most of social life
6
(quoted in Parisi 1986, 26). British anarchist Colin
Ward, writing a year after Goodmans death, stated that
an anarchist society, a society that again sees itself without authority, is always
in existence, like a seed beneath the snow, buried under the weight of the state
and its bureaucracies, capitalism and its waste, privilege and its injustices,
nationalism and its suicidal loyalties, religious dierences and their super-
stitious separatism. (1973, 11)
450 T. Goyens
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Another classic, contemporary exposition of the present-ness of anarchism
is Peter Lamborn Wilsons (using the nom de plume Hakim Bey) T.A.Z.: The
temporary autonomous zone, ontological anarchism, poetic terrorism. Wilson/
Bey, using an eccentric style, fashions a concept of an anarchist place of
resistance, rebirth, and anti-authority (Bey 1985). The TAZ is not to
replace the vision and commitment of a comprehensive revolution, but can
be seen as an uprising which does not engage directly with the State, a
guerilla operation which liberates an area (of land, of time, of imagination)
and then dissolves itself to re-form elsewhere/elsewhen, before the State can
crush it (1985, 99). Bey adopts Michel Foucaults notion of heterotopia, a
place of deviation, a countersite, or a kind of eectively enacted utopia
(Foucault 1986, 24). These theoretical models are grounded in real
neighborhoods and meeting places. Anarchists do envision these places
and zones as miniature anarchist societies in which their principles of
nonhierarchy and mutual aid are practiced as if they actually lived in a
world they would wish to live in. The idea of a parallel community and its
success within a dominant system clearly has spatial connotations.
The German anarchist movement in the United States at the turn of the
twentieth century practiced pregurative politics, even though most
Americans associated the movement with a public campaign with at least
the possibility of violent insurrection. Historians of anarchism, however,
must provide balance to this picture. The anarchists liberated community
forged through pregurative politics holds the key to linking the static
geography of radicalism (map of meeting places) to a dynamic spatial
movement in motion.
Conceptualizing anarchist places
After clarifying the distinctions between space and place, and examining key
concepts of anarchist philosophy, it is time to delve back into the record of
the German anarchist movement in New York in order to analyze
anarchists use of specic places, beer halls foremost among them. By using
Lefebvres notion of the production of space, I seek to demonstrate that the
anarchists practice of pregurative politics constitutes the appropriation
and conceptualization of certain urban places and that this process is an
integral part of anarchists identity and movement. The anarchist beer hall is
not simply a box of unchanging space in which anarchists convened.
Instead, they transformed it into a uniquely anarchist place to suit their
needs.
Urban anarchists produced a spatial community that they conceived as
the embodiment of anarchist ideals what Calvert, cited earlier, described as
the beloved community (Breines 1989, 48). They not only ascribed an
anarchist function to such places, but also inscribed their philosophy in it.
Activities such as backroom lectures, discussion evenings, singing rehearsals,
Rethinking History 451
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mass celebrations, and outdoor recreation produced, and at the same time,
signied the radical space in contrast to the surrounding space.
While working-class saloons were ubiquitous and nearly all looked the
same, such places reveal certain features that made it congenial for small-
scale club life (Duis 1998; Powers 1999; Kohn 2003). Nearly all saloons had
a backroom, which the Germans called Halle, or hall. This was a separate
space used for meetings or celebrations. By transplanting older German
traditions of tavern culture, German anarchists mostly skilled, class-
conscious artisans conceived of their beer halls as a bohemian space freed
from the ethos of mechanization and mass production. Radical saloons in
New York restored a modicum of artisan solidarity and camaraderie amidst
the frenzy of industrial capitalism.
The spatiality of this urban anarchist movement is further visible in the
ways in which anarchists conceptualized their meeting places as an anarchist
society in miniature. They decorated interiors with symbols and representa-
tions from the labor movement and radical tradition. These inscriptions of
meaning and memory onto the ordinary space of a saloon distinguished it
from other taprooms. The walls at Greifs, a radical saloon in Chicago, were
covered with pictures of Lassalle, Marx, Bebel, and Liebknecht, and a bust
of Louis Lingg . . . on a pedestal. (Lingg was one of the defendants in the
18867 Haymarket aair, but committed suicide in his jail cell.) Other than
physical alterations, occupants frequently expanded the initial function
that of a drinking establishment to include uses that further conceptua-
lized their space as alternative and oppositional. Anarchist groups and
radical unions chose saloons as a storage room for their paraphernalia and
even book-keeping. Various unions kept minutes, ags, and other insignias
in large cupboards (Ensslen 1988, 170).
Journalist John Gilmer Speed once visited Zum groben Michel (Tough
Mikes), a popular meeting place on East 5th Street in New York.
Consistent with other saloons, he described the place as a narrow, dark, and
dingy bar-room, with the name placed in white letters on the window. But
the sights and sounds indeed the entire atmosphere transcended the
ordinariness of most workingmens saloons.
This is the basement under a tenement house, and there are two rooms. The
bar is on one side of the front room. In front of it is a large table at which men
were drinking beer and on which was a zither and a man thumping out the
Marseillaise . . . Beyond the table was a reading desk, upon which were les
of anarchistic papers, and above them portraits of the anarchists that have
been executed for their crimes . . . Just beyond the bar, the table, and the
reading stand was a pool table stretching nearly across the room, and leaving
scantspace at either hand for the handling of a cue. Several men stood about
this table with cues in their hands, but they ceased playing when I
entered . . . Beyond the pool table was a smaller room, and in the centre of
this was a table at which half a dozen men sat drinking beer out of those large
glasses known on the Bowery, I believe, as schooners. And still beyond, at a
452 T. Goyens
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smaller table, and next to a window that looked out into a small dark court
yard, sat a young woman [Emma Goldman] who, had she not seemed so
entirely at home, would have appeared out of place in such surroundings. She
was reading a book, with a glass of beer by the side of it on the table. (Speed
1892, 7989)
In 1887, Comyns Ray penned a revealing description of the editorial oce
of Freiheit, a popular paper edited by Johann Most. The ground oor of
number 167 William Street was a lager-beer saloon while the oces were
located upstairs. Ray reported matter-of-factly that upon entering the
hallway you will notice, as soon as your eyes are able to penetrate the
darkness, a large red banner on the wall bearing the inscription, Vive la
Commune. Alluding to the notoriety of the editor, he resumed: A cast-
iron letter-box, marked John Most, attracts ones attention for a moment,
and then we ascend two ights of narrow, creaky stairs, and step into a
large, dilapidated room, extending over the entire top oor of the building.
What fascinated Ray about the oce is not so much its function as a
production facility for an anarchist paper, but rather, the way its occupants
chose to decorate it.
The walls of the room are almost totally covered with pictures, portraits,
newspaper headings, etc. In crazy-quilt fashion is arranged Lieske, Shakspere
[sic], Hoedel, Rousseau, Karl Marx, Feurbach [sic], Stuart Mill, Thomas
Paine, Richard Wagner, Marat, Hans Sachs, St. Simon, LaSalle, Proudhon,
Anton Kammerer, Stallmacher [sic]. (McLean 1972, 2401, 2445)
In addition, anti-anarchist cartoons from popular magazines were displayed
with a sense of pride. Again, an ordinary place was transformed into a
countercultural space adorned with its own heroes as a reaction to their
presumed neglect in mainstream society.
Picnics are another place-event worth considering in this context. On the
one hand, picnics clearly constituted an escape from oppressive tenement life.
Outdoor excursions were common with most working-class Americans, but
German American anarchists fashioned a picnic culture all their own by
adding a political dimension. Interestingly, most parks frequented by
German anarchists in the New York City area were privately owned
nearly all by Germans and featured picnic tables, concert podiums, dance
pavilions, shooting galleries, shing and boating amenities, and of course,
prepaid kegs of beer. Public parks were rarely used, and never were anarchist
activities recorded in Central Park, the playground for the middle classes.
Not only was the park grounds a real space, but anarchists conceived it
as an anarchist space in which their ideals could be practiced in the here and
now. Several descriptions hint at this potentially revolutionary meaning of
picnics. For instance, in praising the success of a festival in Manhattan, one
anarchist paper wrote: Everyone thoroughly enjoyed a few hours of
unrestrained joy of life, an obvious reference to an anti-authoritarian
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agenda (Der Anarchist, 1 October 1892). The best description of a picnic by
a participant in which an anarchist spirit and the notion of oppositional
space are interwoven comes from a review in 1898:
Kro bels large park including the giant dance pavilion could of course by no
means be lled, but even so, a splendid crowd of men and women appeared.
And, the main thing was that there existed an altogether anarchist harmony.
Arrangements were not well planned, but instead instantly improvised so that
everything proceeded like clockwork and a spontaneous order prevailed. There
was no program so that the various conversations never stopped. Sunday
drinking laws were outed and the police were conspicuous by its absence.
(Freiheit, 15 October 1898)
7
Anarchist picnics were pageants and always featured a politically
subversive exhibition. Speakers stated their oppositional views in an
open space, to display solidarity and deance. As the socialist historian
Friedrich Sorge observed of the radical movement in Chicago: every
appropriate event in public life was used to shake up the people, the
workers, and to bring them to a realization of their condition and also,
certainly, to frighten the philistines and politicians (quoted in Nelson
1988, 127). Speeches were accompanied by musical bands, singing, and a
full-edged, military-style ag ceremony performed with grace and pride
on the park grounds. It was an elaborate dedication of trade unions and
agitation groups who unfurled their ags and banners, or paid tribute to
fallen comrades.
The dynamic of oppositional politics at these outdoor gatherings worked
both ways. On a few occasions, outsiders became the audience for the
anarchist performers. Sometimes anarchists were harassed or intimidated by
angry onlookers. A well-attended picnic of several radical organizations in
Weehawken, New Jersey, for instance, was targeted by vagabonds of the
American specialty, as one anarchist sheet called them, who forced their
way into the private park. When that was prevented, they threw stones while
one even red shots at the picnickers. According to the reviewer, one of the
intruders was apprehended by anarchists, given a beating, and thrown over
the fence (Freiheit, 18 June 1887). The fence here is the perfect metaphor
for the anarchists sense of identity forged in a temporary radical space,
namely the space of the picnic ground they occupied and made their own
even if just for an afternoon.
Conclusions
Social movements make, transform, and are possible in space and places.
Alternative and revolutionary practices always interact with space. The
study of anarchism, especially its movement history, is in need of a
reinterpretation based on an awareness of spatiality. While this commitment
is helpful for any study of past human behavior, anarchisms ideological
454 T. Goyens
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goals and claims demand an integrated study of its temporal and spatial
dimensions. By doing this, a more balanced view emerges of the nature, the
impact, and perhaps the achievements of the anarchist movements of the
past. Anarchism is often interpreted as a failure by liberals, conservatives,
and Marxists. A spatial analysis shows that anarchists appropriated places
and successfully built a spatial community that gave meaning to them.
Horizontal, oppositional movements are seldom obviously visible, but they
do exist in parallel networks (with varying degrees of eectiveness to be
sure), and are made up of alternative, meaningful places that are crucial for
any impartial investigation.
Notes on contributor
Tom Goyens teaches American history at the University of Virginias College at
Wise in Wise, Virginia. He is the author of Beer and revolution: The German anarchist
movement in New York City, 18801914 (Illinois, 2007), and is currently working on a
biography of Johann Most. He has published articles on anarchist history in
Rethinking History, Social Anarchism, and Brood en Rozen.
Notes
1. Excerpts of this article have been adapted from Beer and revolution: The German
Anarchist movement in New York city, 18801914. Copyright 2007 by the Board
of Trustees of the University of Illinois. Used with permission of the University
of Illinois Press.
2. Translation by the author.
3. Italics in original.
4. Italics in original.
5. Italics in original.
6. Italics are mine.
7. Italics are mine.
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