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Disloyal Opposition

Anarchists are finally organized—between two covers.

Jul 26, 2010, Vol. 15, No. 42 • By HARVEY KLEHR
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Even though only one of the plotters convicted for killing Tsar Alexander II was Jewish, anti-Semitism was used as a pretext for the first widespread pogroms in Russia, beginning in 1881. Although Butterworth says little about its anti-Semitism, the People’s Will, whose campaign of terror sparked the repression, accepted peasant anti-Semitism as a mark of growing political consciousness. One of his main characters, the Marquis Henri Rochefort, a Communard who captured worldwide attention with his spectacular escape from a Pacific penal colony and remained a stalwart of the anarchist cause for decades, was an inveterate anti-Semite who inveighed against Jewish bankers and Alfred Dreyfus. Butterworth even suggests, without hard evidence, that Rochefort might have collaborated with Rachkovsky to produce the most infamous and influential work of European anti-Semitism, The Protocols of the Elders of Zion.

Unlike the Marxists, the anarchists could rarely agree on anything but their enemies. That left them prey to a wide variety of fanatics and schemers. While serious, if flawed, political thinkers like Prince Kropotkin, the famous Russian geographer, or William Morris, the British poet and artist who longed for a feudal-like community, grappled with issues of federalism and centralization, others praised assassins as martyrs “consecrated to death” or, like one anarchist thinker, were haunted by the injustice of their enjoying more than their share of sunlight. Many of the debates in which anarchists engaged—whether seizing the property of others was restitution or theft, whether killing innocent people was “propaganda by the deed” or murder—surely must have convinced most rational people that their movement was filled with crackpots.

Harvey Klehr is the Andrew W. Mellon professor of politics and history at Emory and the author, with John Earl Haynes, of Spies: The Rise and Fall of the KGB in America.

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