“For a World Without Oppressors:” U.S. Anarchism from the Palmer Raids to the Sixties - Andrew Cornell

The Free Society Group, Date Unknown

Dissertation from Andrew Cornell about anarchism in the United States during a period much forgotten.


In the past decade, anarchism has reemerged as an inspirational tradition and a set of guiding principles for social justice activists throughout the world. Yet the history of anarchist ideas and movements since the early 20th century remains woefully under-researched. In this dissertation, I draw on radical periodicals, memoirs, archival collections, and oral history interviews to analyze changes in the political theory, strategies, and demographics of anarchist movements in the United States between WWI and the end of the Vietnam War. Whereas previous accounts have suggested that anarchism was all but stamped out in 1919 and only reemerged at the tail end of the 1960s, I demonstrate that an unbroken line of anarchist publications, organizations, and activities existed throughout those years.

Though the suppression of anarchist-oriented labor unions and the deportation of skilled propagandists took their toll, racializing representations of radicals during the Red Scare helped secure new immigration restrictions which reshuffled the U.S. working-class, racially and ideologically, in a manner to which anarchists were unprepared to respond. During the inter-war years, domestic organizing challenges were compounded by the priority that U.S. anarchists placed on supporting European comrades threatened by fascists and communists. However, a new generation of anarchists, of mixed class origins, cohered around commitments to pacifism, poetry, and prefigurative strategies during the Second World War. Later, anarchist-pacifists ix supplied tactics and organizing principles to the civil rights movement while black freedom struggles pushed them to abandon theories narrowly focused on class struggle. Meanwhile, anarchists of the Beat Generation synthesized European avantgarde traditions with the hip culture and urban insurrectional activity of AfricanAmericans to infuse the 1960s counter-culture with an eclectic doctrine of antiauthoritarian politics.

By tracing these developments, I explain how anarchism experienced upward mobility—evolving from an ideology of the immigrant working class to one that today appeals primarily to middle class youth. In doing so, I demonstrate that anarchism has been a deeply trans-national, cultural and political project. Internally variegated, it has both shaped and been shaped by major events and social movements of the 20th century, always in pursuit of a world free from social domination.

Cornell - Dissertation - 603.pdf7.52 MB

Posted By

klas batalo
Sep 27 2012 05:40


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Jun 13 2015 23:04

look forward to reading

Juan Conatz
Feb 16 2016 02:13

Looks like this has been turned into a book, titled Unruly Equality: U.S. Anarchism in the Twentieth Century, published by University of California Press.

Juan Conatz
Apr 23 2016 16:37

Last Spring, I added two more Andrew Cornell pieces to the library, 'A new anarchism emerges, 1940–1954' and 'A history of Vanguard'. The latter is edited by me to be a standalone article and is all from “For a World Without Oppressors".

I think they are all worth reading. Probably the best history of U.S. anarchism I've ever seen.

Also, Cornell was recently on KPFA's Against the Grain program talking about the development of anarchism in the U.S.

Apr 24 2016 01:13

The Vanguard history isn't as good as my decades worth of accumulation if notes on this group. But it's pretty good