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  • In Defiance of Boundaries: Anarchism in Latin American History ed. by Geoffroy de Laforcade and Kirwin Shaffer
  • Kenyon Zimmer
In Defiance of Boundaries: Anarchism in Latin American History
Geoffroy de Laforcade and Kirwin Shaffer, eds. Gainesville: University of Florida Press, 2015
vii + 380 pp., $79.95 (cloth)

The thirteen chapters of this anthology represent the best and newest scholarship on the expansive history of Latin American anarchism. In keeping with the book's title, moreover, the essays are not encyclopedic summaries; rather, they challenge "the traditional geographical, chronological, and thematic limits of the historiography" (4) to provide fresh perspectives and insights informed by recent innovations in the field of history. As the editors note, scholarly interest in anarchism throughout the Americas has surged since the 1990s, and their introduction provides an excellent overview of the consequent multilingual historiography. Much of this new work has branched out from the history of labor movements to include social, cultural, and gender history, all of which are well represented in this volume. In Defiance of Boundaries is therefore an essential contribution to the histories of anarchism, transnationalism, and the Left.

Part 1, which deals with the particularly rich topic of anarchist transnationalism, will likely be of the most interest to nonspecialists. The connected world of radical Cuban and Spanish cigar workers in Cuba and Florida, migrant anarchist networks operating within the Panama Canal Zone, reciprocal links between Spain and Argentina during the Spanish Civil War, and the surprisingly extensive Latin American press of the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW) all receive expert treatment. These chapters convincingly demonstrate that the history of the Latin American Left is not only transnational but transcontinental. Several essays also demonstrate that the history of radicalism in the United States extends far south of the border. Kirwin Shaffer's chapter on the Panama Canal (one of two contributions from the coeditor) is especially noteworthy; it shows how "anarchists sailed into the isthmus on the backs of U.S. expansionism" (49) and then used the wages they earned on the canal project to fund opposition to US authorities as well as to support anarchist endeavors in Cuba and Spain. Anton Rosenthal's eye-opening piece on the IWW in Latin America also upends our understanding of that organization and compellingly argues that "the IWW is a missing chapter in Latin American labor history, and the IWW in Latin America is a missing chapter in the global history of the Wobblies" (73).

The second group of essays transcends conventional labor history as well as the perception that anarchism was limited to the era before World War I. Lars Peterson's remarkable chapter on "anarcho-Batllistas" not only brings attention to the neglected history of Uruguay's strong anarchist movement but also recovers the unusual—and, for anarchists and their sympathizers, uncomfortable—story of how populist politician José Batlle y Ordóñez used the promise of progressive labor reform to garner the support of anarchist-led unions for his 1911 reelection campaign. Some anarchists, "uneasy as they might have been about statism, strove to make law work for them, thus developing an [End Page 116] even greater stake in the state" (138). As Peterson notes, this is not the only example of "the state coloniz[ing] anarchism" (118): the Mexican Revolution, the Argentine labor movement, Israeli kibbutzim, and the Spanish Civil War all saw certain sectors of the movement actively engage with and support national governments (anarchist support for the early Bolshevik and Castro regimes could also be added to Peterson's list). Nevertheless, Peterson suggests that anarchists may be credited with the fact that in Uruguay, unlike in most of Latin America, "unions, even workers in general, did not become tied to a particular political party" (138). Geoffroy de Laforcade's contribution similarly posits a lasting anarchist influence among Argentine waterfront workers. Examining the lockout and strike in La Boca del Riachuelo in 1956–57, he uncovers "deeply entrenched local memoires, organizational forms and working-class dispositions" (188) rooted in the heyday of Argentine anarchism decades earlier as well as several aged veteran anarchists who reemerged as leaders and advisors. Chapters on the cultural productions of anarchists in Cuba...


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