The anarchist International

This thread got me thinking yesterday about how little decent information exists on the IWA — the biggest anarchist project of all time.

Having had a think about it, I decided to go back to the Wikipedia article which I'd had a go at a couple of years ago, which other than the exceedingly small IWA site itself, is the first thing to come up on a search.

Not a lot had changed, so I did a bit of looking around online, pillaged the libcom library, and on the way found some interesting stats...

Adding together all the populations of all the countries where the IWA had membership in its inaugural year (1922) gives a total population of approx 238 million for the time.

Knock off about half of that for children, and another say, third or so for home-makers who weren’t elibigle to join the International, and you’re left with about 80 million people — not discounting the wealthy non workers.

According to IWA membership notes from the time, about 2.5million of these were in a specifically anarchist international — about one in every 32, erring very much on the conservative side.

Now right wingers like to moan about how they’re sidelined by liberal commentary, but can you honestly imagine any situation in which a right wing movement penetrating such a vast swathe of the population would be so utterly forgotten by history?

Me neither.

Posted By

Rob Ray
Sep 30 2009 13:16



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Sep 30 2009 13:35

I cant neither. Very strange. I cant remember where I read it. Could have been demanding the impossible. But he goes on about how the loosers dont write and therefore dont have much say in the history books and are easily forgotten. We are loosers beardiest

Sep 30 2009 17:16

I would agree that the influence and role of anarchists in world history is massively underreported by mainstream historians - as Ally says, history is written by the victors.

But on the numbers, I'm not sure you could really say that half of the population were children. And were homemakers really not eligible?

On this blog entry, I've done some sub editing, labour history is not a tag we use, and IWA should be a group tag.

Rob Ray
Sep 30 2009 18:48

Well at present the world population of children - ie. under the age of 15 - makes up about 27% of the total, according to the CIA world factbook.

However a couple of other factors should be taken into account, first that the world population today is disproportionately made up of older people thanks to current technologies, second that 1914 had wiped out approx 16 million people, mostly adult males, mostly from IWA heartlands in Europe. Also bear in mind that the birth rate was v high at the time (post war boom, generally higher birth rates due to die-off and lack of contraception). Hence saying that if anything, I'm being conservative.

As to the membership of women, I'm not saying it didn't happen (if I was I'd have knocked another half off rather than a third) but during the civil war Mujeres Libres numbered barely 30,000 people - less than 3% of the CNT's strength at the time I think? And this is an organisation specifically for women at a time when much of the rest of the baggage of "worker men housemaker women" was being tossed, as opposed to an organisation called the International Working Men's Association. It'd be fascinating to know the true figures but I'd be really surprised if they showed anywhere near gender parity.

Rob Ray
Sep 29 2011 10:58

Quick update on this, I've updated and expanded on the history section of the IWA wikipedia page but would appreciate if more knowledgeable historians of the period would give it the once-over:

Sep 30 2011 04:24

In The Forgotten International Vadim Damier, discussing “large discrepancies” in estimates of the membership of the Uruguayan anarcho-syndicalist union FORU, points to a “traditional peculiarity of the Latin American trade union movement in the early 20th century: only a few members paid dues on a regular basis.” (Volume 1, p. 164)

Unions calculate their membership by the amount of dues they collect, but in the case of revolutionary unions, especially ones which don’t place a lot of emphasis on cash flow, there may be a considerable body of workers who consider themselves members even though their dues may be in arrears!