For the classic historians of the anarchist movement, the culminating act of the drama lay in Spain.footnote1 Both George Woodcock’s Anarchism (1962) and James Joll’s The Anarchists (1964), after bows to Godwin and Proudhon, began by describing the tireless work of Bakunin and his disciples, Fanelli, Malatesta and the rest, building sections of the First International—Marx’s International Working Men’s Association—in Italy, Switzerland and Spain. Proudhon’s notion of production and exchange organized by free associations of workers was expanded by Kropotkin and Reclus. After the crushing of the Paris Commune, clandestine anarchist groups took to the ‘propaganda of the deed’ and scored an impressive number of hits on ruling monarchs and heads of state. But as Kropotkin himself wrote in La Révolte in 1891, however inspiring individual acts of heroism might be, ‘revolution is above all a popular movement’. Early trade unions had been largely reformist in scope, but the mass syndicalist movements that exploded onto the scene in the early 1900s—the cgt in France, the iww in the us, the militantly anarchist cnt in Spain—mobilized hundreds of thousands of proletarians around revolutionary aims. The cnt had half a million members when the Spanish republic was declared in 1931. In the popular uprising against Franco in 1936, cnt workers in Barcelona seized control of the factories and streets. For Woodcock and Joll, the tragic epic of Catalonia in 1936–37 remained the central experience of the anarchist revolution; the curtain fell as Franco’s fascism drowned the black-and-red flag in blood.

In recent years, however, this account has come under attack. Research into early labour-movement and anti-colonial struggles has unearthed evidence of anarchist and anarcho-syndicalist organizing across a much wider sphere. A seminal contribution was Arif Dirlik’s Anarchism in the Chinese Revolution (1991). Peter Marshall’s uneven compendium Demanding the Impossible (1994) contained pages on Latin America and Asia; Jason Adams’s Non-Western Anarchisms (2003) offered a view from Johannesburg; Benedict Anderson’s Under Three Flags (2006) traced the skeins of anarchist and anti-colonial solidarity linking Cuba and the Philippines in the 1890s via Barcelona, Brussels and Hong Kong. An impressive new collection of essays edited by Steven Hirsch and Lucien Van Der Walt offers a welcome addition to this work. Anarchism and Syndicalism in the Colonial and Post-Colonial World, 1870–1940 emerged from a panel on ‘Anarchism in the Global South: Latin America in Comparative Perspective’ at an Amsterdam conference on social history in 2006. Its studies of Argentinian, Brazilian, Peruvian and Mexican–Caribbean networks are complemented by papers on Africa, East Asia and ‘colonial’ zones of Europe, Ireland and the Ukraine, with a preface on the relations between anarchism and communism by Benedict Anderson. A forty-page introductory essay by the editors, complete with a lengthy bibliography, constitutes a significant contribution to anarchist historiography in its own right.

Hirsch and Van Der Walt argue that ‘anarchism was not a European doctrine that diffused outward. Rather, the movement emerged simultaneously and transnationally, created by interlinked activists on three continents.’ Its history needs to be explored beyond the blinkered notion of a ‘Spanish exceptionalism’ that has privileged the role of the Iberian Peninsula. Their collection also aims to investigate the part played by anarchism and anarcho-syndicalism in anti-colonial struggles; coverage of East Asian—Korean, Chinese, Japanese—as well as South African and Egyptian experiences examines the ways in which anarchism attempted to negotiate the divisive issues of nationalism, race and religion. A brief account of this material—much of it will be new to non-specialists—will give a flavour of the volume.

Nineteenth-century Egypt may seem an unlikely setting for a section of the First International; yet as Anthony Gorman notes, Italian anarchists among the migrant-workers’ community in Alexandria supported the 1882 Urabi revolt against British rule. Italians, Greeks, Jews and Germans at first dwarfed the involvement of Arab-speaking Egyptians themselves in the disputatious left-libertarian circles of Cairo and Alexandria. Propaganda of the word trumped that of the deed: a short-lived but influential Free Popular University was established in Alexandria in 1901, giving classes in Arabic and Italian; a lecturer assailed the ‘intellectual alcoholism’ of Catholicism and Brahmanism, which preached ‘blind and passive obedience’. In the early 1900s syndicalist organizations grew fast among Egyptian tailors, shoemakers and cigarette workers. The shoemakers’ leadership included five Egyptians, five Greeks, two Syrians, an Italian and an Armenian; the lingua franca of workers’ solidarity was an amalgam of Arabic, French, Greek, Italian and German. Capitalism was declared the common enemy: ‘Labour has no frontiers or language.’ In this context, anarchism and socialism were hard to distinguish from one another. The national uprising against British rule in 1919 was accompanied by insurrectionary anarcho-syndicalist strikes; many of these militants were drawn into the Egyptian section of the Third International in 1923. As Gorman shows, they had charted new paths of radicalism for two decades leading up to the 1920s, struggling against colonialism but refusing to pander to conservative-nationalist forces.

The struggle against Japanese imperialism was the central question for Korean anarchism when it emerged in the 1920s. The peninsula itself was locked down under ferocious colonial-police repression, but paradoxically Tokyo itself served as a hub for East Asian radicalism in this period. Dongyoun Hwang’s account illuminates the ways in which transnational networks were forged through educational projects and labour organizing. A Korean anarchist group was active in Tokyo from 1921 and put out a journal, Black Wave. The Korean syndicalist Kim Taeyeob, an organizer of Korean workers in Japan, was radicalized by attending a course of ‘Open Lectures on Labour’ given by Japanese socialists and anarchists. Korean students in Shanghai put out a Kropotkinist manifesto, describing the dissolution of rural–urban divisions after the anarchist revolution: villages would have the amenities of cities, and cities the greenery of farming villages; money would be abolished and society as a whole would become artistic.