It's just a way that the story gets told.
Like this (Which I'm not criticising by the way, it's funny. I'm the one who isn't funny)
99 years - The Classical Anarchist Period 1840 - 1939
Anarchism had it's 'heyday' (in this version of the story) in the years between the time that the first of the classical anarchist thinkers, Proudhon, declared himself to be an anarchist in 1840, until the defeat of the Spanish revolution 99 years later.
And it's some damn tale to tell...
The gradual development of the theory, the initial communal experiments, the variety of the ideas coming up, mutualism then collectivism and individualism and then the rise of the mammoth; anarcho-communism. The first daring attempt to put it into practice on a larger scale in the Paris Commune and the dramatic split with the Marxists a year later. The glory days of anarcho- syndicalism in France, Spain, Italy, Argentina where huge proportions of the workers were organised into anarchist unions. The chaos of the Russian revolution, Nestor Makhno's free territory, the Black Army pitted against the Red Army... all eventually culminating in the glory of the Spanish revolution, the deconstruction of the capitalist system, heroic international displays of solidarity and then coming to an abrupt end in betrayal at the hands of supposed allies and then defeat at the hands of the fascists...
And then the story stops.
We know that the Second World War happened immediately afterwards, we know that most of the classic thinkers were dead or dying, the big groups were stopped in their tracks either suspended or finished entirely by the war.
And as we emerged into the light after the war was over the new world was one in which western imperialist capitalism was pitted against Russian authoritarian communism, and where was anarchism? Left scratching it's head wondering what went wrong.
72 years of post war Anarchism 1945 - Now (2017)
Anarchism re-emerged as something new and different (again, in this version of the story). It was now about art, sexual revolution and counter-culture, even pacifism and more recently about identity politics and more anarcho-adjectives than you can shake a stick at. And in amongst this we haven't really got anywhere or done anything particularly significant, just talked a lot, dressed up and every now and then throw a brick through a Starbucks window.
Re-evaluating this story
But is this right? Has the focus of the anarchist movement really changed? If so has it widened to demand anarchy for every part of everyone everywhere, or has it narrowed to fit only the demands of the first world's rebellious youth?
My answer is no, I don't think that's the right story. The recent developments in anarchism are logical developments, we're still on the same course as we've always been.
Both the WWI and WWII were huge interruptions in the anarchist movement but both times the spark of anarchy survived and the fire continued to rise.
Anarchism was linked with feminism and anti-racism before and after, anarchists participated in large scale social movements before and after. Many anarchists of the classical period survived long into the post war period (Rudolf Rocker was with us right up to 1958 for example) and many anarchists that we think of as mainly belonging to the modern period cut their teeth back in the 20s and 30s (Boockchin, Ward, Chomsky). Also a great many of our organisations were founded way back in the old days and never really stopped (IWW, IWA etc.)
Don't think for a second that if the communards of Paris could have seen the Zapatista uprising in '94 or been present at the declaration of autonomy in Rojava in '14 that they wouldn't have thought it was beautiful or that they wouldn't have been proud of all the other shit we've been up to and just how far we've taken the ideas of anarchy. There are concepts and behaviours that we have integrated into our movement now that people back then would have kicked themselves for not having thought of, just as we all will in 50 years for things we can't see now.
No revolution is pure and perfect we are mistaken if paint an unrealistically romantic picture of the past or if we write the present off as corrupted or dull.
With that in mind, lets celebrate the modern anarchist movement's top 5 (in no particular order)
1. The Spanish Revolution - You heard me. This fight wasn't over until it was over, and it wasn't over until the 1960s. In 1949 Italian anarchists raised the black and red flag outside the Spanish consulate in Genova and went inside and burned the archives. There were 2000 skirmishes between 1943 and 1952 with guerrilla fighters who wouldn't give in and accept the Franco regime. They even conducted an air-raid with a light aircraft from France in 1948. Read more here.
2. The Zapatista Uprising In 1994 and until present day. Hundreds of thousands of people participated and this year as it turns 23 years old the struggle continues. Land deeds were burnt and prisoners were set free. It was neither mainly comprised of anarchists, nor was it led by anarchists but anarchism was never far away and few of us have failed to notice it's libertarian-socialist character Read More here. Marxists were there too of course but this takes nothing away, we fought side by side with the Poum in Spain too.
3. The Battle of Seattle 1999 - One of the biggest and best organised of protests in first world cities of recent times, the protests at the gathering of the World Trade Organisation in Seattle meant something. 40,000 people showed up and the majority of them wanted nothing less than to put a stop to the conference, even if it was a bit of a rag tag bunch with everyone from hippies to conspiracy theorists involved, it's remembered for the anarchist involvement. What this showed was that even in a first world nation full of imperialism and conservatism and even in a relatively prosperous period where unemployment was low we can still get enough people out on the streets to rock the boat. All this set the scene for 'Occupy' movement 12 years later as it became clear that the relatively good times were coming to an end.
4. Anarchist Exarcheia Athens, Greece - Neither fascists or police will enter this neighbourhood lightly. Anarchists have marched through openly armed (link here), so many buildings are squatted that newspapers are reporting that police are unable or unwilling to intervene (link here), thousands of refugees in the biggest crisis since World War 2 have found shelter and solidarity here (link here), anarchists are even running a hospital (link here). Exarcheia may not be defended at the barricades (although it sometimes is) but it clearly represents something special. Maybe the fact that anarchists haven't attempted to formally 'take' this area has been what has allowed it to continue to develop in the way it has and allowed a new society which is actually worth defending to begin to grow in the shell of the old.
|Solidarity from London|
|The anti-fascist flag is raised|
|Proudhon visits Rojava|
We're probably only just warming up yet.