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ANARCHISTS. It is fitting that the word "anarchism" derives from anarkhia, the Greek word for "nonrule," for that is what anarchists essentially espouse: the eradication of government in favor of a natural social order. A libertarian variant of socialism, the ideals of anarchy date back at least as far as the eighteenth century. Elements of anarchic thought were evident in the seeds of the American Revolution and Thomas Jefferson's writings often hinted at anarchist thinking.

Nineteenth-Century Anarchism

During the nineteenth century, anarchism gained a wider following and branched out in two distinct directions: one pacifist and philosophical, the other violent and radical. Along the way, it helped inspired such diverse social changes as the Russian Revolution, unionization, and passive resistance techniques.

The modern stems of anarchy sprouted from philosopher Pierre-Joseph Proudhon's vision of a peaceful, anarchistic society of self-governing individuals, achieved through the erosion of artificial authoritarian government. His 1840 book, What is Property?, set the stage for international debate about the ownership of fruits of labor.

The term "anarchist" surfaced in Geneva at the initial congress of the First International (the International Workingmen's Association) in 1866 to describe the increasingly militant wing of the new Socialist Party emerging throughout western and central Europe. In 1872, following the sixth congress of the International, held at The Hague, the party leadership (including Karl Marx and Frederick Engels) ejected Russian revolutionary Michael Bakunin, who advocated the violent overthrow of capitalism in particular, and governments in general. The First International splintered as Bakunin and other extremists formed the aggressive far-left wing of a party devoted to anarchistic communism. As proponents of the "propaganda of action" (assassination as a tool of anarchy), Bakunin's followers blazed a bloody trail across Europe, slaying Russia's Tsar Alexander II, Italy's King Humberto, France's President Sadi Carnot, and Austria's Empress Elizabeth.

It was inevitable that violent anarchism would cross the Atlantic to the United States. For a nation still suffering from the aftermath of the Civil War, as well as the pains and progress of the Industrial Revolution and the overheated melting pot of mass immigration, the anarchists' ideas of self-governance were attractive to many disenfranchised Americans and newly arrived immigrants.

And so on 6 September 1901, Leon Czolgosz mortally wounded President William McKinley at the Pan-American Exposition in Buffalo, New York. After the shooting Czolgosz, a German-Pole who had resettled in Cleveland, Ohio, proudly confessed his crime and proclaimed himself a follower of Emma Goldman, the so-called mother of American anarchism. In 1902, the United States banned any immigrants identified as anarchists.

Emma Goldman, the Haymarket Riot, and Sacco and Vanzetti

A Russian-born émigré who arrived in the United States in 1885 at the age of seventeen, Goldman earned a following with her impassioned demands for women's rights (including access to birth control), better labor conditions, and the rights of the poor. She was jailed for a year after advocating that starving men steal bread to survive. She may also have assisted another Russian-born anarchist leader, Alexander Berkman, in the attempted assassination of industrialist Henry Clay Frick during the Homestead Strike in Pennsylvania during 1892. Goldman was also active in the early formation of labor unions and pro-union organizations, and supported the creation in 1905 of the radical Industrial Workers of the World (IWW), a leading force in the anarcho-syndicalist movement, also known as anarchist unionism.

But her greatest impact was probably as editor of the anarchist journal Mother Earth from 1906 to 1917. Government agents raided the journal's offices in 1917 and legend has it that a young J. Edgar Hoover poured over the confiscated materials to study the leftists he would battle throughout his career.

Goldman's revolutionary spirit was first sparked by the execution of four anarchists suspected in the bombing deaths of seven policemen during the infamous Haymarket Riot in Chicago on 4 May 1886. The riot and trial became a rallying point for nineteenth-century radicals and gave birth to the socialist holiday of May Day. When she died in 1940, Goldman's body was returned to the United States (she had been deported to Russia along with Berkman in 1919 for supporting draft evasion) and buried

near the gravesites of the executed Haymarket rioters. In 1920, the trial and execution of Nicola Sacco and Bartolomeo Vanzetti (a pair of anarchists accused of killing two men during a shoe company robbery in 1920) gained similar status as a watershed event among twentieth-century radicals.

Nonviolent Anarchism

While violent anarchism has seized most of the headlines over the years, a nonviolent wing of the anarchist movement, descending from Proudhon's ideals, also took root in America. Called individual anarchists, or radical pacifists, these believers in the peaceful overthrow of government had as one of their primary leaders Benjamin R. Tucker, the publisher of the individual anarchist journal Liberty from 1881 to 1908. Tucker's advocacy of passive resistance and other peaceful means of anti-establishment protest presaged the nonviolent twentieth-century freedom movements led by Mahatma Gandhi in India and the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in the United States.

At the turn of the twentieth century, the softer, more philosophical side of anarchy is represented by thinkers and writers such as Noam Chomsky. He has helped redefine anarchy for a new era, moving away from revolutionary agitation and toward a more moderate, evolutionary socialism.

Vietnam and Afterward: Violence on the Left and Right

While the early twentieth century saw the greatest anarchist activity in American history, the Vietnam War era gave rise to a new generation of radicals. One of the most prominent antiwar organizations, Students for a Democratic Society (SDS), spun off a group of violent anarchists known as the Weathermen. Also called the Weather Underground, the group, led by Columbia University student Mark Rudd, was involved in at least five hundred bombings, as well as a four-day Days of Rage riot in Chicago in 1969. In the 1970s, the Weathermen organization essentially dissolved after several of its leaders were killed in a Greenwich Village explosion in 1970. But remnant members continued to wreak havoc throughout the decade.

The 1980s and 1990s saw an ideological shift among groups using anarchistic tactics, as right-wing extremist groups became the most active and violent anti-government organizations in the nation. While true anarchism stems from leftist, socialist philosophy—ideals anathema to the far right—at least on the surface, both ends of the ideological spectrum have similarly anarchistic goals of individual self-rule obtained through the eradication of the government.

Individual survivalists and conspiracy theorists, drawn together by charismatic leaders and a shared hatred of the federal government, have often formed these right-wing organizations. They are frequently affiliated with hate groups such as the Ku Klux Klan or neo-Nazi organizations or with isolationist cults resistant to government intervention. Watershed events for these groups have included the deadly standoff between government agents and Randy Weaver's family in Ruby Ridge, Idaho, in 1992, and the FBI siege that ended in the destruction of the Branch Davidian compound (and the deaths of those inside) in Waco, Texas, in 1993. Both events fueled and reinforced the passion and fury of right-wing extremists.

The late twentieth century also witnessed several acts of violence by single perpetrators that some have called anarchic. But whether Timothy McVeigh's truck bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Office Building in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, on 19 April 1995 (which took the lives of 168 people), or Ted Kaczynski's eighteen-year reign of mail-bomb terror as the Unabomber, were acts of violent anarchists or twisted madmen remains debatable. Both men were by driven to murder by their hatred of the establishment; but unlike most anarchists, neither was deeply involved in a political organization that supported their efforts.


Arnold, Matthew. Culture and Anarchy. Edited by Samuel Lipman. New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 1994. First published in 1869.

Avrich, Paul. Sacco and Vanzetti. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1991.

———. Anarchist Voices: An Oral History of Anarchism in America. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1996.

Chomsky, Noam. Powers and Prospects: Reflections on Human Nature and the Social Order. Boston: South End Press, 1996.

DeLeon, David, ed. Leaders from the 1960s: A Biographical Source-book of American Activism. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood, 1994.

Goldman, Emma. Anarchism and Other Essays. Mineola, N.Y.: Dover, 1977. First published in 1917.

———. Anarchy! An Anthology of Emma Goldman's Mother Earth. Washington, D.C.: Counterpoint, 2001.

Nozick, Robert. Anarchy, State, and Utopia. New York, N.Y.: Basic Books, 1974.

Proudhon, Pierre-Joseph. What is Property? Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press, 1994. First published in 1840.

Reichert, William O. Partisans of Freedom: A Study in American Anarchism. Bowling Green, Ohio: Bowling Green University Popular Press, 1996.

Zinn, Howard et. al., eds. Talking about Revolution: Interviews with Michael Albert, Noam Chomsky, Barbara Ehrenreich, Bell Hooks, Peter Kwong, Winona Laduke, Manning Marable. Cambridge, Mass.: South End Press, 1998.

Laura A.Bergheim

See alsoAssassinations, Presidential ; Assassinations and Political Violence, Other ; Haymarket Riot ; Homestead Strike ; Industrial Workers of the World ; Oklahoma City Bombing ; Pacifism ; Ruby Ridge ; Sacco-Vanzetti Case ; Students for a Democratic Society ; Trade Unions ; Unabomber ; Waco Siege ; andvol. 9:Bartolomeo Vanzetti's Last Statement .