Beer And Revolution: The German Anarchist Movement in New York City, 1880-1914 by Tom Goyens [Review]

I wanted to like this book but after page 4 I couldn’t be bothered. Goyens writes “with the exception of Alexander Berkman no anarchist inspired acts of deliberate violence have been committed by a self identified anarchist in the US”. I reached for the first page of another recent book “Buda’s Wagon” by Mike Davis: “A few months after the arrest of his comrades Sacco and Vanzetti, a vengeful Italian immigrant anarchist Mario Buda parked his horse drawn wagon on Wall Street. Buda’s wagon. It blew up leaving 40 dead”. Buda wasn’t alone in being a veteran supporter of Luigi Galleani, the anarchist apostle of violence. I turned to the index of Beer and Revolution. Hadn’t the anarchist Leon Czolgosz assassinated President McKinley. Goyens writes “McKinley was shot by a deranged American of Polish descent, Leon Czolgosz, who claimed to be an anarchist”. So what’s going on here – anyone who commits violence has their anarchist credentials called into question. Deranged? In fact Czolgosz had perfectly good reasons for shooting McKinley.

In this book Goyens’ aim is to eschew all portrayal of anarchists as violent. Johann Most’s violent rhetoric “was often tongue in cheek and not dissimilar to 1970’s punk culture”. You fucking what! Johann Most as Sid Vicious!

The bulk of the book is a well researched description of anarchist beer halls, picnics, and social outings of German anarchists in New York 1880-1914. Goyens seems to find it noteworthy enough to run to 250 pages of such description overlaid with a sub Hakim Bey/Paul Goodman analysis of autonomous space. Chapters have such guff headlines as “A Radical Geography: The Social Space for a Dissident Subculture”. So up his own academic arse is he with his analysis that when some anarchists throw some policeman over a fence at a picnic we are told it is not really a fence at all… the policeman has in fact been thrown over a “metaphor” for autonomous space. Everything that points to nice warm hearted anarchists is included, everything violent is excluded – including poor Leon Czolgosz.

It doesn’t seem to occur to Goyens that all sorts of nationalities, occupations, political persuasions were capable of organising their own social networks, outings, and beer hall besides the German anarchists. Its as if he’s discovered working class people are capable of self organisation and wants to race the news back to his academic peers. “Do you know, up North they run their own clubs, they run pigeon races, and charabanc outings… Its all about the reconquest of autonomous space.”

Where’s my pint! I need a drink! Or is that a metaphor?