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ANARCHISM AS IDEOLOGY AND IMPULSE: ANARCHISM IN AMERICA (1981) by Leslie Fishbein Anarchism in America is a provocative, engaging, but historically flawed work. It is noteworthy for its ambition and scope, seeking to debunk prevailing myths linking anarchism to terrorism and violence, to establish the indigenous nature of anarchist ideology, and to demonstrate the prevalence of the anarchist impulse. As directed by Steven Fischler and Joel Sucher, award-winning filmmakers who themselves had been members of the Transcendental Student Movement, which championed anarchist individualism during the campus turmoil of the Sixties, Anarchism in America is the first comprehensive documentary to chronicle the anarchist movement in America, tracing its roots to nineteenth-century American individualist thinkers and demonstrating its continued vitality in the anti -nuclear movement, food cooperatives, and worker-owned factories . Fischler and Sucher deserve credit for the boldness of their film. By on-the-street interviews and clips from speeches by George Wallace, Hubert Humphrey, and Abraham Ribicoff, the filmmakers demonstrate the popular equation of anarchism with chaos and violence, with a selfish disregard for the rights of others. The film seeks to debunk this myth, stressing the concern of anarchists for the freedom of all individuals from all unnecessary institutional coercion and their commitment to nonviolence in the interest of securing peace, as in the anti-nuclear demonstration held by the War Resisters League at the Shoreham, Long Island nuclear power plant in 1979. Ed Hedeman, a participant, explicitly disclaims the use of wars to achieve a just society and nonviolently accepts arrest in order to bear witness to his beliefs. Having proved LeAlIe. Fishbein teacheA in the. Amexican StudieA Ve.paxtme.nt at RutgeXA Univexòity. She, ÌA the authon o{¡ Rebeló in Bohemia: The Radicalo oj The Masses , 1911-1917 [1982] , and a negulax contxibuton to Film S HJatony. 77 his authenticity as a practitioner of nonviolence, Hedeman lends credibility to his testimony regarding the continued influence of anarchism in the anti-nuclear movement. He argues that the anti-nuclear movement is decentralized, works on concensus rather than on orders from a central authority, and is committed to nonviolence on principle, hence its continuity with the anarchist tradition. Anarchism in America also addresses the classic question of debate, namely whether anarchism was an indigenous American ideology or a foreign import and opts for its domestic origins. It argues convincingly that anarchism had its roots in nineteenth-century American individualism as expounded by Josiah Warren, Benjamin Tucker, and Ezra and Angela Heywood and only subsequently came under the influence of foreign thinkers like the Russians Michael Bakunin and Peter Kropotkin. In this respect the film is historically accurate since Josiah Warren's Cincinnati Time Store of 1827-1830 was "the first scientific experiment in cooperative economy," one based on an exchange of commodities and labor time between storekeeper and purchaser: Thus the anarchist vision of a world composed of autonomous local communities, in which individuality would be one sacred principle and economic life regulated by the mutual exchange of goods and services on a cost basis, found its expression on the transAllegheny frontier two decades before similar European conceptions made their appearance. Furthermore, while the present-day modified cooperative movement looks to Rochdale, England and the earlier London Labor Exchanges, the first venture in cooperative marketing had an uncontestably American setting, predating either of these more widely known English events and in some respects providing the inspiration for them . Moreover, Anarchism in America reveals the widespread influence of the anarchist impulse. It presents stirring documentary footage of the Spanish Civil War, noting the substantial role played by anarchist brigades in resisting Franco, a fact that has been obscured to many Americans by the historians' tendency to view that war as merely a dress rehearsal for the more global conflict to follow and by the greater ability of the Marxist left to dramatize the conflict in documentary films like The Spanish Earth, Heart of Spain, and Return to Life and in the writing of Ernest Hemingway?2 The film also makes effective use of rare footage of protests surrounding the Sacco and Vanzetti case and includes the only surviving newsreel footage of the anarchist Emma Goldman, taken when...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1548-9922
Print ISSN
0360-3695
Pages
pp. 17-22
Launched on MUSE
2013-01-02
Open Access
No
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