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Paul Avrich, 74, a Historian of Anarchism, Is Dead

Paul Avrich (1931-2006)

February 24, 2006, By NADINE BROZAN

Paul Avrich, a historian of the anarchist movement that played a role in the Russian Revolution and flourished in America in the 19th and early 20th centuries, died on Feb. 16 at Mount Sinai Hospital. He was 74 and lived in Manhattan.

The cause was complications from Alzheimer's disease, said his wife, Ina Avrich.

Named distinguished professor of history at Queens College in 1982, Dr. Avrich, whose field was Russian history, wrote 10 books, mainly about anarchism, the belief that society is better off without the constraints of government.

Dr. Avrich became the confidant of well-known figures in the anarchist movement.

"He considered himself a scholar, teacher and chronicler of the movement and had great sympathy and affection for them," his wife said. Dr. Avrich took issue with the prevalent image of the anarchist as violent and amoral.

"Every good person deep down is an anarchist," he was quoted as saying in the announcement by Queens College of his elevation to distinguished professor. Three of the 20th century's literary giants, James Joyce, George Bernard Shaw and Eugene O'Neill, were anarchists in their youth, Dr. Avrich said, and he had hoped to write a book about O'Neill.

In an interview with The New York Times in 1972, he said that the Vietnam War and the women's movement had reignited interest in the concept of personal freedom over government control. He added: "In America, such individuals and groups were in a sense pioneers of social justice. Many of the anarchists in this country and in the world have either been neglected or scorned, and I would like to play a role in resurrecting them."

The subjects of his books included the Kronstadt naval base rebellion of 1921, an uprising of sailors against the Bolshevik regime that left more than 10,000 dead or wounded; the Haymarket Riot of 1886, in which seven Chicago police officers were killed by a bomb thrown at a workers' gathering; and the Sacco and Vanzetti case. He interviewed hundreds of adherents of the movement for one book, "Anarchist Voices: An Oral History of Anarchism in America."

Born in Brooklyn to Rose Zapol Avrich, an actress in the Yiddish theater, and Murray Avrich, a dress manufacturer, he graduated from Cornell and earned his master's and doctoral degrees at Columbia. His dissertation was on the labor movement in the Russian Revolution, and after Khrushchev opened the country to exchange students, he went to the Soviet Union to do research.

In New York, his interest intensified when he met a number of anarchist thinkers at a meeting called by Freie Arbeiter Stimme (Free Voice of Labor), an anarchist Yiddish newspaper.

Mrs. Avrich said her husband collected letters, papers, books and photos of leading anarchists and donated a collection of 20,000 items to the Library of Congress. He even named his cats for the anarchists Piotr Kropotkin and Mikhail Bakunin.

Dr. Avrich spent his entire academic career at Queens College, where he began as a Russian history instructor in 1961 and retired in 1999. He was also on the faculty of the City University Graduate Center.

In addition to his wife, he is survived by two daughters, Jane and Karen Avrich of Manhattan, and a sister, Dorothy Avrich of Miami.

Quelle: New York Times, Artikel v. 24. Februar 2006

Paul Avrich, Anarchist Historian, RIP

by Ronald Creagh

Paul Avrich, the foremost historian of American anarchism, is dead. While we hope to give more complete details about his life and work later, I would like to take this opportunity to salute the person who first introduced me to American anarchism.

When I decided to write a doctoral dissertation on this topic, my professor suggested that there was probably an American expert in the field, and that I should first get in touch with that person. Through Marie-Christine of the CIRA in Lausanne, Switzerland, I obtained Paul's address and wrote him.

Paul organized everything for my research, including my residence in New York and my meeting with the New York anarchists, and in particular, Sam and Esther Dolgoff. It was very enlightening to me to discover that while I thought the subject of Jewish anarchism could be easily treated in a few pages, this one issue had inspired him to write over a thousand pages of handwritten notes. He suggested that for my research I consult Columbia University, which indeed turned out to have a quite splendid collection, while I let him know about the treasures in the New York Public Library.

We met again several times, and I know that Paul's friendliness will remain in the minds of all who have known him, just as his scholarship will be remembered by all who have read his remarkable books. He offers his readers very extraordinary information. Perhaps his most thought-provoking testimony is contained in his work Anarchist Voices, which is based on his careful, time-consuming interviews with hundreds of people.

It is to be hoped that his vast collection of documents will be preserved. But in any case it is certain that in a country which has experienced the Red Scare, McCarthyism and a long tradition of witchhunting, Paul will stand out as a scholar who has quietly but quite remarkably rehabilitated that modest but generous minority of workers who have resolutely fought for freedom and justice.

Paul Avrich, Radical Historian, 1931–2006

Infoshop News (Infoshop News [infoshop.org]) February 20, 2006 Radical historian, Paul Avrich, died last week. He was 74. Paul Avrich was born in New York City on August 4, 1931. He was a noted historian and professor who authored many books on anarchist history, including books on the Haymarket Riot, the Modern School Movement, the Russian Revolution and a collection of oral interviews with American anarchists titled Anarchist Voices. Avrich was nominated for the Pulitzer Prize several times and in 1984 he won the Philip Taft Labor History Award.

Avrich received his B.A. from Cornell University in 1952 and his Ph.D. from Columbia University in 1961. Avrich taught at Queens College of the City University of New York and at Columbia University. He was a Guggenheim fellow at Columbia University in 1967–68 and a National Endowment for the Humanities senior fellow in 1972–73.

Avrich published his dissertation on “The Russian Revolution and the Factory Committees” at Columbia University in 1961. In 1967 Avrich published his first book on the history of anarchism, The Russian Anarchists. He went on to publish many more books on anarchist history, including The Haymarket Tragedy in 1984 and Sacco and Vanzetti in 1991. Writing about Avrich’s book Kronstadt 1921 for the New York Review of Books, Alasdair MacIntyre observed that "[Avrich] gives us the closest examination of all the available evidence that we are likely to have for some time and he uses his evidence to construct a narrative that, in its most brilliant passages, matches the power of Deutscher's The Prophet Armed and Moshe Lewin's Lenin's Last Struggle."

The Library of Congress houses the Paul Avrich Collection, a collection of over twenty thousand manuscripts and publications on American and European anarchism that Avrich donated to the library.

Ronald Creagh remembered Avrich this weekend: “…I know that Paul's friendliness will remain in the minds of all who have known him, just as his scholarship will be remembered by all who have read his remarkable books. He offers his readers very extraordinary information. Perhaps his most thought-provoking testimony is contained in his work Anarchist Voices, which is based on his careful, time-consuming interviews with hundreds of people.”

AK Press [akpress.org] recently re-published Anarchist Voices.

Avrich Collection at the Library of Congress [loc.gov]

Selected Bibliography

  • The Russian Anarchists, Princeton University Press, 1967.
  • Kronstadt 1921, Princeton University Press, 1970.
  • Russian Rebels, 1600–1800, Schocken, 1972.
  • (Editor and author of introduction) Peter Kropotkin The Conquest of Bread, Allen Lane, 1972.
  • (Editor and author of introduction) Peter Kropotkin, Mutual Aid, a Factor of Evolution, Allen Lane, 1972.
  • (Editor) The Anarchists in the Russian Revolution, Cornell University Press, 1973.
  • An American Anarchist: The Life of Voltairine de Cleyre, Princeton University Press, 1978.
  • The Modern School Movement: Anarchism and Education in the United States, Princeton University Press, 1980.
  • (Author of introduction) Voltairine De Cleyre, The First Mayday: The Haymarket Speeches, 1895–1910, Libertarian Book Club, 1980.
  • The Haymarket Tragedy, Princeton University, 1984.
  • Bakunin & Nechaev, Freedom Press, 1987.
  • Anarchist Portraits, Princeton University, 1988.
  • Sacco and Vanzetti: The Anarchist Background, Princeton University, 1991.
  • Anarchist Voices: An Oral History Of Anarchism in Amreica, Princeton University, 1996.

Sources: Includes information from Contemporary A