A Cosmopolitan Crowd: Transnational Anarchists, the IWW, and the American Radical Press

By Kenyon Zimmer

It is no coincidence that Salvatore Salerno’s groundbreaking study of transnational influences on the Industrial Workers of the World, Red November, Black November, devoted much space to the role of anarchists. Within the constellation of late-nineteenth and early-twentieth-century radical movements that gave rise to the IWW, anarchism was the most transnational in its activities and internationalist in its commitments. Anarchists, Jose Moya notes, “formed the world’s first and most widespread transnational movement organized from below and without formal political parties,” and both anarchism and syndicalism spread across the globe through the same international migrations of workers, exiles, activists, and students. Many transnational anarchists were therefore instrumental in shaping the IWW and its ideology, at both the institutional and local levels. To a great extent, globetrotting anarchists were responsible for forging the IWW into “a diverse, multilingual, transnational organization.”‘ This aspect of the IWW‘s history, however, remains largely unknown. Most scholarship on the Wobblies in the United States relies on English-language sources, whereas the vast majority of anarchists-and a great number of Wobblies-were immigrants. In particular, Mexican, Italian, Spanish, Finnish, and Russian immigrants were over-represented in the union, and anarchism ran strong within each of these ethnic groups. Moreover, as Davide Turcato observes, “a key reason for ... the inherent difficulty in studying anarchist organization, is that anarchism is often an opaque movement,” and deliberately so. Anarchist involvement in the IWW is no exception.


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