The late Anarchist historian Paul Avrich probably met and got to know more people from the original anarchist movement than anyone who was young enough to be alive at the beginning of the 21st century. He was acquainted with the sons of Johann Most and Rudolph Rocker, and the daughters of Benjamin R. Tucker and Peter Kropotkin and with those who had been personal friends of Emma Goldman, Alexander Berkman, Sacco and Vanzetti and Voltairine de Cleyre. What did he have to say about the old anarchists?
“I’ve known thousands of anarchists and the percentage of them I didn’t like is very small,” says Avrich. At his sparsely furnished Upper West Side apartment, overlooking the Hudson River, Avrich speaks quickly and passionately about the people and the movement he spent a lifetime chronicling. “I loved these people,” he says, leaning forward with his hand clutching his heart. “I think about them every day.”
Now what did the distinguished historian have to say about what passes for “anarchism” today?
“Avrich does not shy away from controversy in his books, treating the anarchist acts of violence honestly and in the context of the time. He does not condone the violence of Berkman, but says he still admires his decision, considering how brutal Frick acted toward striking workers. But Avrich does not have the same patience for some contemporary anarchists, who choose to destroy property and who, he says, come mainly from educated and middle-class backgrounds. “I’m not so crazy about anarchists these days,” he says. “Anarchism means that you leave other people alone and you don’t force people to do anything.”
He says he is sad that the old-timers are not around to guide the resurgent movement. “They were nicer people – much nicer people.””
Of course, not a few of today’s “anarchists” are really nothing more than brownshirts for the new Totalitarian Humanism. To hell with ’em.