Chinese anarchists in the 1920's USA - the Equality Society (Includes a report from 'The Equality Society')

In the period before the Chinese revolution Chinese anarchists were also active in the USA - in particular the 'Equality society'. This article includes complete transcriptions, including original errors, of two articles from that time on The Equality Society

In America, Chinese anarchists were few ("not more than 100") but they were active in the struggle. Some were workers, toiling in restaurants and garment shops. Others were students.

I am unaware of there being much written, in English at least, about Chinese-American anarchists.

Below you will find complete transcriptions, including original errors, of two articles which I have on file on The Equality Society. Both appeared in the American English-language monthly newspaper "The Road to Freedom".

In her autobiography, Bread Upon the Waters", Rose Pesotta briefly mentions a "group of Chinese students" in San Francisco who were known by, presumingly an anarchist "friend" in New York in the mid-1930s. (p.71)

When Pesotta was on a union organization visit to San Fransico she met with of these "students". In the tenement apartment, Pesotta writes, she saw copies of Chinese "pamphlets with portraits of… Kropotkin, Proudhon… and others.

Even though Pesotta was a known anarchist at the time she wrote this book (1944) she also served as a Vice President of the AFL International Ladies Garment Workers Union (ILGWU) and never wrote about anarchism or anarchists in her autobiography. So we can only infer that the initial people she met, Chih Ling and Yung Lee, were either active anarchists or sympathetic to anarchism.

From a read of the below article by Joseph Spivak, and Pesotta's description of her physical suroundings, it appears that both Pesotta and Spivak were talking about the same people.

We do know there existed an anarchist organization named The Equality Society. Mention of them appears in the English language anarchist paper "The Road to Freedom".

Writing in his column, "Our Organized Movement: A Coast to Coast Observation, Joseph Spivak, glowing reported that :

"The most encouraging group in San Francisco is the Chinese group, not because they do much work - they are very few in number - but on account of their enthusiasm. The members of the Chinese group have the same enthusiasm as the early revolutionists in Russia.

"I went up to see Comrade Red Jones the secretary of the group. He lives on a second floor of a very old fashioned building in the Chinese section of San Francisco. He, as well as most of the Chinese there, is very poor. He occupies a small room and according to the number of beds in this room is occupied by three. Yet when I entered the room I felt I was in an atmosphere of Ideal! The room was actually filled with literature, every inch of space is made use of for this purpose. Comrade Jones immediately began to show me one book after another in the Chinese language which were received from China and which he spreads among the Chinese population. I could not read the books, but from the pictures of the authors, I could see they were translations from Kropotkin, Bakunin, Berkman, Malatesta and almost every other anarchist writer. They also issue in China two monthly publications which this group spreads in San Francisco. In China, Comrade Jones told me, our comrades carry on a fight against the Nationalist party [of Chaing ki-Shek, the KMT] who are only a bunch of politicans: we do not want to make the same mistake as the Anarchists made in Russia [Apparently a reference to some anarchists alliances with the bolsheviks and being soft on the bolshevkization of the revolution early on]

"This little group also issues their own publication in Chinese language, "Equality", which they distribute free of charge. They also have a class in Chinese every Sunday for those who are interested."

[Sorry, the page with the date when this article was written, does not appear in my files. I am presuming it was in 1927 as there appears references to the execution of Sacco-Vanzetti which took place in August 1927.]

The Equality Society issued a report to the October 1928 Anarchist Conference (held at the International Center, 149 E 23rd St., NYC). The comrades reported:

"1. The Chinese in America:

Except for a few well to do class, most of the Chinese in America are sweat earners. On account of their ignorance, even they feel their own sufferings under the present economic order, they do not have class consciousness and revolutionary spirit. However they are not to be blamed, for they do not have any education at all. Even they do have, they have only the education under the capitalistic regime. Naturally, they object to all radical changes of the present order. Under this situation, the Chinese comrades have a very hard task to convert these poor Chinese workers to be revolutionists. However, they begin to realize the solidarity of the labor class. "As for the well to do class, they can never give up their selfishness. What they do care is to build up a bourgeois government in China to protect their interest.

"2. Chinese in America toward Anarchism:

"The Chinese in America who really believe anarchism are not more than one hundred. The reason for that is they are followers of nationalism and have confidence in politics and government. [My note: Of the then ruling KMT in China].

"3. A short history of the Equality Society:

"The Chinese in America who are interested anarchism in America are less than one hundred. We realize that the organization and propaganda are very important, so we had this society organized in 1925. In the course of this short history, there were several troubles with those well to do class, as they tried to make this organization a failure but in vain. A few months ago, the imperialistic government of America threatened to destroy this society by arresting comrade Jones and confiscating all our literatures. However, this only made us more militant than ever before.

"4. Some of the work of the Equality Society:

"In spite of the fact that we do not have many comrades, we have made an effort to publish a monthly in Chinese called "The Equality". Just a few days ago, the Chinese government notified the Chinese post office not to circulate the same in China and send them abroad. This what they are doing now and afraid of. besides, we have published and send free all sorts of pamphlets to all who understand Chinese from time to time. We also distribute literatures concerning anarchism in both English and Chinese. Now, we are going to hold regular meetings even we have little time to do so, as we are all long hour, poor working conditions and low pay workers.

"5. The Anarchist movement in China:

"Comrades in China are very faithful to their work for anarchism. They do it either by large combination or small organizations. The ones which are worth to mention are 'the Young Anarchists Federation in China' and the 'South China Anarchists Federation.

"Every organization has its publication. There is a bookstore in Shanghi named the Freedom Bookstore, has made a great contribution in handling our anarchist literatures.

"Suggestions to the Conference:

"We suggest that:

1. The anarchists should pay more attention to the current situation of all countries in the present day.

2. Anarchists should have a well organized organization to faciliate our work.

3. All local organizations, if possible, should hold regular meetings. If possible, some kind of social gatherings should be held occasionally for comrades of all nationalities in big cities.

4. All organizations better send their news in English to ROAD TO FREEDOM.

5. the ROAD TO FREEDOM better expands materials and pages. If possible, cheap paper may be sued for achieving these purposes.

The Equality Society


From: Anarcho-Syndicalist Review, Summer 2006.