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(en) US, Obituary: Paul Avrich (1931-2006) by Marianne Enckell - Centre International de Recherches sur l'Anarchisme (CIRA) (fr, it)

Date Wed, 22 Feb 2006 13:21:28 +0200

Paul Avrich died in New York on the morning of the 17th
February 2006 after a long illness. While an exchange student in the
USSR, Paul uncovered the Kronshtadt insurrection and the role of
anarchists in the Revolution. He was to produce several works based
on this information, works which, while controversial, were pioneering.
Paul was of a Jewish family originally from Odessa and was able to
so to the USSR to study as a result of Nikita Kruschev's visit to the
United States in 1959 where he not only banged his shoe but also
authorised student exchanges. It was there that Paul uncovered the
Kronshtadt insurrection and the role of anarchists in the Revolution,
while he was working on his thesis ("The Russian Revolution and
the Factory Committees", 1961). He was to produce several works
based on this information, works which, while controversial, were
pioneering. He was also to acquire a previously unknown but lasting
affection and sense of solidarity with anarchists as people, rather
than as militants.

And this is what he sought to teach his students at Queens College
in New York throughout his active life, despite initial opposition
from the university authorities. The development in the United
States of historical research on anarchism is without doubt partially
due to "Uncle Paul's lovely stories". Indeed, he loved nothing better
than to talk to people and encourage them to talk, and was not of the
generation that had learnt to combine history, sociology and
anthropology. He could also read without any difficulty most
European languages, including Russian and Yiddish, something
which gave his work a certain depth.

Having dealt with the Russian anarchists, he proceeded to work on
the history of the anarchist movement in the United States, dividing
it into several thematic areas: Voltairine de Cleyre first, then the
Modern Schools inspired by Francisco Ferrer, the Chicago tragedy of
1886, Sacco and Vanzetti, the Jewish anarchists, immigrants and
refugees. His last important work gathered two hundred interviews
made over a period of thirty years, "a source of incomparable value
for future researchers... But oral history cannot replace conventional
history, which must be attested by written documents... Memories
often have gaps, and mistakes can be made", as he wrote in the
preface to these "anarchist voices" comprising hundreds of notes and
a gigantic index. He has allowed these "anonymous" militants to
avoid oblivion, opening the way for innumerable works of research
and reflection.

Paul Avrich was a faithful friend of the CIRA and contributed
generously to its finances and its collections (after one of our last
meetings he supported the Russian publication of Volin and offered
a preface). He was a trusted friend to many of the older members of
our movement, putting them in touch with each other, following
their reunions, visiting them regularly - and watching them depart
from this life, one after another. Without him, much of what is
remembered by the movement would be lost.

Marianne Enckell

Translation by ainfos
Principal works by Paul Avrich:
The Russian anarchists. Princeton University Press, 1967; re-edition
1978 (Les Anarchistes russes; translated by Bernard Mocquot. Paris:
Maspero, 1979; other translations in Japanese, Spanish and Italian).

Kronstadt, 1921. Princetown: Princetown University Press, 1970 (La
Tragédie de Cronstadt, 1921; translated by Hervé Denès.
Paris: Seuil, 1975; other translations in Spanish and Czech).

Russian Rebels, 1600-1800. New York: Schocken Books, 1972.

The Anarchists in the Russian Revolution. New York: Cornell
University Press, 1973 (Gli anarchici nella rivoluzione russa;
translated by Michele Buzzi. Milano: La Salamandra, 1976).

The history of the anarchist movement in the United States,
published by Princeton University:

* An American Anarchist: The Life of Voltairine de Cleyre, 1978.
The Modern School Movement: Anarchism and Education in the
United States, 1980. The Haymarket Tragedy, 1984. Anarchist
Portraits, 1988. Sacco and Vanzetti, The Anarchist Background,
1991. Anarchist Voices: An Oral History of Anarchism in America,
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