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  • Beer and Revolution: The German Anarchist Movement in New York City, 1880–1914 by Tom Goyens
  • Frank Jacob
Beer and Revolution: The German Anarchist Movement in New York City, 1880–1914
Tom Goyens
Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 2014; 296 pages. $28.00 (paper); ISBN 978–0252080463.

New York City is a metropolis that has attracted many different forms of immigration and thereby the establishment of political cultures that have been imported from different countries, redefined, and partly “Americanized.” In the latter third of the nineteenth century, for example, the Seventeenth Ward of Manhattan was “the heart of German New York” (1). Tom Goyens, in his study on beer and revolution, takes a closer look at this German-speaking part of New York and the [End Page 164] German anarchists who “were the first to fashion a revolutionary-anarchist movement in the United States” (1). Goyen wants to analyze the subculture of German anarchism in the New York metropolitan area between 1880 and the outbreak of the First World War in 1914. Goyens attempts to analyze anarchist symbolism and rhetoric by focusing on this particular subgroup of nineteenth-century German immigrants. While “little Germany” on the Lower East Side has been well researched, Goyens argues that the history of German anarchists in this area remains an underresearched topic (2). Consequently, this study would not only close a research gap in local history, but, since “the German anarchist movement in New York was part of the broader history of international radicalism, making it an American, German, and transnational movement” (3), his study should also illuminate the transnational aspects of U.S.–German anarchism in New York City. His book, however, provides a rather topographical history and should not be seen as an intellectual or philosophical treatise on anarchism per se (7). From Goyens’s point of view, “The spatiality of anarchism, its geopolitical realm, is . . . crucial to understanding the history of the movement because it adds a spatial dimension to an otherwise exclusively temporal examination” (8). The main purpose for the book is therefore to provide “an ethnography of an immigrant anarchist movement, highlighting its ideological, spatial, and historical dimensions,” (9) as well as to close a gap of anarchist history in the United States and Germany alike.

The first chapter provides a survey of New York’s “radical geography” (17–51). For Goyens, one can only understand New York anarchism by understanding the geography of the movement. This is why he initially gives substantial attention to describing the neighborhoods of the New York City tri-state area, where German immigrants lived. Manhattan (21–24), Brooklyn (24–26), Queens (p26–29), the Bronx, Staten Island, Newark, Elizabeth City, Hudson County, and Paterson (p29–34) are illustrated to highlight the areas in which German anarchists would later become active. In the second part of the first chapter, Goyens discusses the meeting places of the German anarchists in New York, focusing on beer halls (Bierhallen; 34–46) and lecture halls (46–51). Weekly meetings with other German anarchists “formed the cornerstone of this militant oppositional movement” (34), and understanding beer hall culture is very important for understanding anarchist culture, especially since “the saloons constituted a radical space, a [End Page 165] chance to practice anarchism as much as to advocate it” (38). It is important to understand this interrelation between beer halls and anarchism, because it demonstrates how “an ordinary place is transformed into a countercultural space” (41) through the beer-hall patronage by German anarchists. One saloon that exemplifies this interrelation was Justus Schwab’s beer hall on 50th street. The anarchists, however, also met for political events at Cooper Union, the Germania Assembly Rooms, Clarendon Hall, and New Irving Hall. In addition, picnics, Christmas parties, and other festive events were often used as podiums for political discussions as well (46–51).

The second chapter, “From Heimat to Exile” (52–85), describes the political and mental geography of the German anarchist movement. Goyens first explains the development of the German Social Democratic Party (SPD) and its internal ideological struggles (52–60). He also addresses the specific events that led prominent anarchists to leave Germany initially for London, and then later...


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