Immigrants Against the State: Yiddish and Italian Anarchism in America.

Author:Sterba, Christopher M.
Position:Book review
 
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Immigrants Against the State: Yiddish and Italian Anarchism in America. By Kenyon Zimmer. Urbana, Chicago, and Springfield, IL: University of Illinois Press, xiv + 300 pp.

Immigrants Against the State examines the rise and fall of the American anarchist movement, from the peak years of southern and eastern European immigration to the start of the Cold War. Kenyon Zimmer describes the experiences of anarchist strongholds in New York, San Francisco, and Paterson, New Jersey, each community representing a distinctive type of transnational dynamism and cohesiveness. He anchors his discussion with two main arguments. First, he contends that most of his subjects became anarchists after their arrival in the United States, radicalized by both exploitation and the inspiring political culture of debate and action they found here. Second, he ascribes the movement's rapid decline in the 1930s and 1940s to the end of relatively open migration from Europe after the First World War. The immigration restriction acts of the 192.0s cut off the lifeblood of the movement, which aged and faded from political relevance in the polarized atmosphere of World War II and the Cold War.

Zimmer gives depth to this narrative by highlighting the transnationalism of militancy in the Lower East Side, Paterson's Italian community, and San Francisco's North Beach neighborhood. New York's vast Yiddish-speaking population provided the movement in America with its greatest following and its most successful newspaper, the Fraye Arbeter Shtime. Yet if the flourishing of yidishkayt helped anarchism to become a factor in the garment union struggles and the Russian Revolution, it also was a major reason for its decline. So linked in their cultural identity to the Yiddish language, the New York militants could neither reach out to non-Yiddish speakers nor sustain the movement among American-born Jews. The Italian anarchists of Paterson and San Francisco, meanwhile, were much more connected to their ethnically diverse neighbors and the global movement. Paterson's silk workers created the most durable anarchist-led labor organizations in the country, which mobilized across ethnic lines while establishing a movement culture that included schools, bookshops, drinking societies, and even a mandolin orchestra. Most famously, Paterson activist Gaetano Bresci assassinated the Italian King Umberto I. In San Francisco, militancy reflected the city's fluid ethnic mosaic, as conditions fostered a...

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