Unruly Equality Named One of Top Five Indie Histories for Spring by Foreword Reviews

Unruly Equality Cover
While Cornell’s approach and tone are academic, the book is very readable, making it accessible even outside his field of study. Cornell takes an open stance toward his subject matter and his audience. He passes the energy of his research along through the text, making Unruly Equality the antithesis of scholarly drudgery.

Cornell’s book is a perfect fit for a broad array of social and political leaders and thinkers, from young activists who grew up scrawling anarchy symbols on their lockers, to academics who study the means and motives of social change.
— Melissa Wuske, Foreword Reviews

The Page 99 Test

Andrew Cornell was asked to apply The Page 99 Test to Unruly Equality: U.S. Anarchism in the Twentieth Century.

Turning to page 99 of Unruly Equality, we find a mild-mannered, mustachioed anarchist named Harry Kelly recounting the birth of the Mohegan Colony – a leafy planned community along the Hudson River, one hour north of New York City, developed by anti-capitalist radicals in 1923.

Our purpose,” Kelly explained, “was to establish another children’s school, to be conducted along libertarian lines, to build a community wherein a larger measure of individual and social life could be realized.

Although the page is devoted to describing a particular initiative, it does hint at the themes and questions animating the book as a whole. Many people assume anarchism – a political movement opposed to all forms of social and political domination – died out in the United States after the notorious Emma Goldman was deported during the First World War. In fact, Unruly Equality traces an unbroken line of anarchist activism and thought up through present-day phenomena such as Occupy Wall Street. It is true, however, that the face and focus of anarchism changed remarkably over the 20th century.

Prior to WWI, most U.S. anarchists were immigrant wage-laborers hailing from eastern and southern Europe. Some worked to organize radical unions while others practiced “propaganda of the deed,” such as the assassination of business-owners and politicians. Following a wave of wartime repression, however, many anarchists turned their energies to raising “free,” ethically-minded children and other gradualist methods wherein they attempted to “prefigure,” or model, an ideal world in their own lives. Anarchist “colonies,” such as Mohegan, were meant to contribute to this strategy, but their achievements proved disappointing. On page 99, I argue:

The colonists’ initial desire to create social change through libertarian education, was, by 1923, compounded by a plan to collectivize the process of social mobility. Anarchist colonies offered their residents more pleasant surroundings and greater freedom of expression in daily life, but also distanced them from opportunities to organize fellow workers and from the direct conflicts with authorities that characterized the lives of prewar urban anarchists.

This change of scenery signaled broader shifts in the anarchist movement towards middle-class constituencies and concerns. In the 1940s, anarchists allied with radical pacifists and avant-garde poets, laying the foundation for the Beat Generation and 1960s counter-culture. In the process, however, they ceded their connections to working-class life and the influence they once had within organized labor.

 

The Pope, Dorothy Day, and the Anarchists

This was originally a guest post on the UC Press Blog as part of a series published in conjunction with the meeting of the American Studies Association in Toronto. UC Press authors share insight into their research and stories that reflect this year’s conference theme, “The (Re)production of Misery and the Ways of Resistance.”

When Pope Francis celebrated Dorothy Day as a great American, alongside the likes of MLK, Thomas Merton, and Abraham Lincoln, in his address to Congress last month, the pontiff described her as a lifelong social activist, “inspired by the Gospel, her faith, and the example of the saints.” He neglected to mention that the Russian anarchist Peter Kropotkin and the militant union the Industrial Workers of the World proved as influential, if not more so, to the co-founder of The Catholic Worker Movement.

Enigmatic to more traditional Catholics and Leftists alike, Day and other Christian Anarchists, such as the itinerant war tax resister Ammon Hennacy, nevertheless helped to keep the anarchist tradition of resistance to capitalism and militarism alive during the inhospitable years of the mid-20th century, reshaping it in ways that continue to resonate in contemporary initiatives such as Food Not Bombs and Occupy Wall Street.

Ammon Hennacy. Phoenix, Arizona, 1951. Courtesy of the Department of Special Collections and University Archives, Marquette University Archives.

Ammon Hennacy. Phoenix, Arizona, 1951. Courtesy of the Department of Special Collections and University Archives, Marquette University Archives.

Whereas previous anarchists had used direct action tactics—such as strikes and sabotage—against activities they deemed detrimental to human well being, the Catholic Workers launched a network of farming communes and urban “Houses of Hospitality” amidst the Great Depression as a means of directly aiding fellow human beings. Doing so they crossed the Christian and communist principles of “do unto others” and “to each according to need.”

Although some anarchists griped that Day’s religious devotion violated their basic precept of “No Gods, No Masters!” they also appreciated the support provided by Catholic Workers in periods when allies were hard to come by. In June 1955, for instance, Day and Hennacy were arrested with others in Manhattan for deliberately refusing to take cover during a public air raid drill as symbolic resistance to the absurdities of Cold War social conditioning. The following issue of the anarcho-syndicalist journal Views and Comments carried a front-page article lauding “our pacifist friends” for their protest against the “authoritarianism, control, and militarism” that marked the city’s Civil Defense campaigns.

A young avant-garde actress and director named Judith Malina joined the 1955 protest against nuclear weapons and spent a week sharing a jail cell with Day as a result. She emerged a convinced anarchist pacifist and, with her partner Julian Beck, founded the Living Theatre, which would serve as a key transmission belt for anarchist values to a global audience of 1960s youth, who witnessed or took part in the company’s production of legendary antiauthoritarian plays such as The Brig and Paradise Now!

Julian Beck (left) and Judith Malina (center) of the Living Theatre, with an unknown actor (date unknown). Courtesy of the Living Theatre Records, Yale Collection of American Literature, Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library.

Julian Beck (left) and Judith Malina (center) of the Living Theatre, with an unknown actor (date unknown). Courtesy of the Living Theatre Records, Yale Collection of American Literature, Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library.

Dorothy Day’s life helps us to understand how complex and elastic the anarchist tradition has been, and to recognize the myriad ways in which anarchism has shaped the culture and history of the United States.

Sunrise Cooperative Farm: A Depression Era Kibbutz in Michigan

This was originally published as a guest post on the University of California Press Blog, part of a series published in conjunction with the meeting of the American Historical Association in Atlanta. UC Press authors share insight into their research and stories that reflect this year’s conference theme, “Global Migrations: Empires, Nations, and Neighbors.”

A barn at the Sunrise Co-operative Farm Community, Alecia, Michigan, circa 1933-1936. Courtesy of the Boris Yelensky Papers, 1939-1975, Labadie Collection, University of Michigan Library (Special Collections Library).

A barn at the Sunrise Co-operative Farm Community, Alecia, Michigan, circa 1933-1936. Courtesy of the Boris Yelensky Papers, 1939-1975, Labadie Collection, University of Michigan Library (Special Collections Library).

At its high point in the decade before the First World War, the anarchist movement in the United States was composed primarily of immigrants from Italy, Spain, Russia, and Eastern Europe, many of them Jewish. The Yiddish language anarchist weekly, Fraye Arbeter Shtime (Free voice of labor), circulated an estimated 30,000 copies per issue in 1914, while most other anarchist periodicals topped out at 3,000.

As outspoken critics of capitalism, nationalism, and imperialism, anarchists suffered harsh repression at the hands police, federal agents, and vigilantes during the war. Though diminished in size and left strategically disoriented, anarchists maintained a rich institutional life in New York and other large cities during the 1920s and 1930s. Although the 1930s are widely remembered as banner years for the “Old Left” in the United States, little has been known until recently about the ways anarchists—anti-statist socialists—reacted to the Great Depression and the rise of the New Deal. Perhaps most intriguing among their varied efforts was the attempt by Jewish anarchists to establish an agricultural commune northeast of Detroit as a means of circumventing the dismal wage economy while putting their ideals into practice.

In the fall of 1932, Fraye Arbeter Shtime editor Joseph Cohen published a prospectus explaining that in such a venture, “The land, the means of production and the things that are in common use must belong to the community as a whole; the individual should own only objects of personal use (clothes, furniture, books, works of art) and share of the common income.”

When a 10,000 acre farm, replete with buildings, equipment, and livestock, came on the market for a reasonable price, the group snapped it up, with families buying in for $500 a piece. By May of 1934 one hundred fifty adults and fifty-six children lived at the Sunrise Cooperative Farming Community year round. Despite their inexperience, this inspired crew managed to bring in a crop of peppermint, sugar beets, and grains worth nearly $50,000 during its first season.

Residents of the Sunrise Co-operative Farm Community, Alecia, Michigan, circa 1933-1936. Courtesy of the Boris Yelensky Papers, 1939-1975, Labadie Collection, University of Michigan Library (Special Collections Library).

Residents of the Sunrise Co-operative Farm Community, Alecia, Michigan, circa 1933-1936. Courtesy of the Boris Yelensky Papers, 1939-1975, Labadie Collection, University of Michigan Library (Special Collections Library).

Despite promising beginnings, however, difficulties and conflicts quickly arose. Promotional meetings for the colony had been conducted in Yiddish and many participants had assumed the colony would function with Yiddish as its primary language, as a means of retaining Jewish identity. Labor Zionism was growing in popularity, and to some, Sunrise appealed as an opportunity to experience kibbutz life. Yet Cohen argued for English as the primary language since the colony had “several” non-Jewish members and was home to dozens of children who spoke little Yiddish. He may also have been mindful of the anarchist movement’s growing desire to appeal to native-born English speakers. Residents eventually agreed to conduct meetings in English, with language choice at other times a personal matter, but the debate remained an open sore.

Acts of nature also created setbacks for Sunrise residents. The commune’s second season was severely marred by the same drought that uprooted farmers throughout the country. The following summer brought heavy rains, which flooded the low-lying land, followed by an invasion of crop-eating caterpillars. As the economy began to improve after 1936, a stream of colonists abandoned the farm to return the city life with which they were more familiar. Faced with financial disaster, the remaining colonists agreed to sell the entire operation to the government as a means of extricating themselves from the venture.

Despite these setbacks, many Jewish anarchists continued to view kibbutzim as the best way to put anarchist values into practice, leading some to endorse or join the politically fraught settlement of Jews in the British Mandate of Palestine. Twentieth century U.S. anarchism is replete with similar stories of global migrants proposing intensive forms of “neighborliness” as solutions to structural challenges, while attempting to balance the cohering properties of national identity with a severe antipathy towards nation-states.