An Interview with the Anarchist Wikipedia Editor, Grnrchst (Part Two)
2022 04 07
From The Commoner
Grnrchst is an anarchist and prolific Wikipedia editor who has contributed to a number of the site’s articles on anarchism. In part one of the interview (which you can read here), Grnrchst shared their thoughts on Wikipedia’s principles and organisational structure, and speculates on where they might align with anarchist concepts and values. In part two, Grnrchst shares how the articles they contributed to for Wikipedia helped shaped their perspective on anarchism and global resistance.
Among the entries you’ve written, which one are you particularly proud of?
This may sound cheesy but it’s the one that hasn’t been written yet. Writing Wikipedia articles isn’t like writing a book or an essay for a journal, where there is some level of completeness to the final draft that ends up being published. Wikipedia is a living and breathing encyclopaedia, meaning it’s never really done, but is constantly evolving, expanding and improving based on the additions of a collective. So while I’m proud of many of my entries, I’m far more proud when others help build them beyond the foundations I laid.
Of course, I appreciate that this may not be a particularly satisfying answer, so I’ll give a couple specific examples. These are works-in-progress that I am hoping will soon meet the criteria for being rated as ‘good’ articles. Maybe they could even be ‘featured articles’ some day.
Right now I am working on articles about the history of the Ukrainian anarchist movement, such as that of the Revolutionary Insurgent Army of Ukraine, the Makhnovschina, and Nestor Makhno himself. This is a project that I am pumping a lot of hours of research and writing into and it is still far from done, but I’m very proud of what I have accomplished so far, and I am looking forward to making them even better. I still need to add more sources, particularly to the article on the RIAU, and still need to do some restructuring work, particularly on the Makhnovschina article, but I think I’m in the process of making something really good with these ones.
Another piece of work that I’m also particularly proud of was my expansion of the article on Anarchism in China. At the time I arrived, it was relatively short, was often lacking in citations and just generally needed a lot of Tender Loving Care. I cracked open my copy of Arif Dirlik’s Anarchism in the Chinese Revolution and got started, pulling from a number of sources in order to build the article into something greater. Now the article is three times the size it was before I began, includes hundreds of citations and gives a broad overview of the history of the Chinese anarchist movement, going up into the modern day. I’m mostly proud of this one because it shines a light on an area of anarchist history that is often neglected, which is a shame, considering it is perhaps one of the most important areas of anarchist history to study. It still needs work, and I plan on adding even more citations in the future just to really flesh out its sources, but it’s a fantastic article.
In general, I have done a lot of work on creating and expanding articles about anarchist movements by region. I still have more work to do on this front, with dozens of requested articles waiting to gather more information, and my eyes on expanding a couple of others that are in need of more detail.
You’ve contributed a number of entries on the various histories of anarchism throughout the world. What did you learn about the histories of anarchism as a global current?
I quickly came to learn that the different anarchist movements around the world are deeply inspired and affected by their local traditions and conditions, basically by what currents they are drawing from and what they are fighting against. If an anarchist movement sprouts up in a country that is affected by imperialism or colonialism, then it will often emerge from that anti-imperialist and anti-colonialist struggle. If a country has an industrialised economy, then its anarchist movement will form in reaction to industrial capitalism, and prioritise workers’ control of production. Whereas anarchist movements in countries with primarily agrarian economies will often form in reaction to feudal lords and their goals will often be inexorably linked to struggles for land.
Anarchism has historically been rather malleable, morphing and changing to fit wherever it finds itself. During the 1920s, the anarchist movements in China, Spain, and the United States were very different to one another. And even within the same country, the anarchist movement in Spain today is very different to what it was in the 1920s.
But that which makes these movements different does not divide them. They are, at their core, united in their diversity. While we have only had a word for ‘anarchism’ for a couple hundred years, the philosophical core of anarchism stretches back thousands of years. For as long as oppression and domination has existed, so too has there existed a desire to overthrow oppression and domination. While these movements may be different, they are all interconnected in their anti-authoritarian means and ends.
This has given anarchism, more so than other political philosophies, a truly internationalist and global outlook. Unfettered by the boundaries of national borders, you will find German anarchists in London, Russian anarchists in New York, Chinese anarchists in Paris, Georgian anarchists in Mongolia, Italian anarchists in Cairo, Spanish anarchists in Buenos Aires, and so on. Unlike socialism and nationalism, there is no ‘anarchism in one country.’ Wherever anarchists go, they tend to find something to revolt against because they are generally discontent with their own freedom from oppression while others are still being oppressed.
You’ve edited, written, or expanded quite a number of entries on obscure anarchist currents in the post-colonial (so-called “third") world. Could you tell us a bit of what you’ve learned about anarchism outside the West?
I learned that the anarchist movement is far bigger than I imagined. When I started, I thought I was going to be translating stuff about anarchism in Latin America and maybe expanding some articles about the movements in East Asia.
What I discovered included: substantial anarchist tendencies within the Indian independence movement, in both the revolutionary and pacifist factions; Russian anarchism spilling over into the Caucasus, Central Asia, and Mongolia; historical anarchist traditions and tendencies in dozens of African nations; a resurgent anarchist movement in South-East Asia; decades of insurrectionist practice in Iran; and connections between anarchism and famous anti-imperialist leaders such as Augusto Sandino, Amílcar Cabral, and José Rizal.
Painting with broad strokes, many of these anarchist movements emerged through resistance to imperialism and colonialism, as imperialism was the main hierarchy for them to combat during the early twentieth century. These movements often found themselves struggling to manage the transition from resisting a foreign imperial state to resisting a native national state. It was during this transition that anarchism in the post-colonial world largely went into remission, as not only was it unable to reorient itself towards opposing its former allies that now formed the national government, but it was also caught between the two Cold War superpowers that only allowed for statist capitalism or statist socialism.
The twenty-first century has clearly marked a turning point for anarchism in the post-colonial world, as imperialism no longer has the ideological aspect of the Cold War and resistance to local nation-states is beginning to pick back up again. Throughout the post-colonial world, a re-examination of Marxism-Leninism and the fracturing of the statist left allowed for anarchism to reemerge, in concert with popular discontent with the local authoritarian regimes. Sometimes it sprouted out of local punk subcultures, and other times from mass protest movements or libertarian trade unions, in a process that is continuing to this day.
Other than perhaps in Southern Europe, Western anarchism hasn’t been able to deal with the transition out of the Cold War quite like post-colonial anarchist movements have. West-centric anarchism has certainly struggled to understand the importance of post-colonial anarchism or develop a coherent analysis of it. I hope that my contributions to Wikipedia can build towards improving this situation, to some extent.
You’ve scoured over a lot of material to write your entries. What topics and tendencies in anarchism do you think deserve more attention? Is there an anarchist current you find yourself more drawn to?
One thing I have found interesting is the history of dissidents being labelled as ‘anarchists.’ It’s an important aspect of anarchist history to go over, seeing as this is where the self-identification with ‘anarchism’ originally came from: people that opposed their government were denounced as anarchists, so some just started saying ‘OK then, I’m an anarchist.’ The term ‘anarchist’ was used to attacks early anti-clerical and democratic activists in England, it was used to describe the Bábists and militant communists of Iran, it was applied to radical students in Ethiopia and used by the Communist Party of China to denounce dissident Maoists, and it was used by the British Empire to refer to revolutionary independentists in India. At least to me, it’s just as important to study the people that had the label unwillingly thrust upon them, as it is to study those who took on the label themselves.
People studying anarchism should also try to branch out from the more classical, doctrinaire, Eurocentric anarchism of the Proudhon–Bakunin–Kropotkin line. It’s important to challenge one’s perception of what anarchism is by exploring other ideas that may not align with their own, even ones that they may experience knee-jerk reactions against. By doing this, one can better understand the totality of anarchisms, instead of attempting to understand it as a unitary, narrow ‘anarchism.’ Accepting that there are interpretations of your own ideology that you may disagree with is an important intellectual process.
Going off this, it’s also important to learn about the historical mistakes and failures of the anarchist movement. One that immediately springs to mind was the anarchist collaboration with the Kuomintang, which led to certain prominent anarchists enabling the rise of Chiang Kai-shek and supporting his anti-communist purges. Another example lies in the tactical errors of the Makhnovists during the Soviet–Ukrainian War and the Confederalists during the Spanish Civil War, which led directly to their defeats. To learn from mistakes is to learn how not to repeat them.
As for which anarchist currents that I find myself drawn to, that would probably be a number of different anti-ideological and non-doctrinaire forms of anarchist and libertarian practice. To me, the most authentically anarchist movements are the ones that don’t call themselves anarchist, or that even reject the label. These are movements that implement a living form of anarchy grounded in their own traditions, philosophies, and experiences, rather than trying to manifest a product of some narrow ideology. I’m fascinated by Latin American indigenismo, particularly in the practices of the FEJUVE in Bolivia, the Mapuche resistance in Wallmapu, and the autonomous zones of the Magonistas and Zapatistas in Mexico. I’m hoping to contribute more to the expansion of the articles covering these in the future.
Where do you find primary and secondary sources for the entries?
The internet is your friend. Sometimes it’s as simple as typing ‘Anarchism, [insert word here]’ into Google Books, other times it involves more specific searches through journals, libraries, and reputable publications. In particular, online libraries have been a tremendous amount of help in this, as they have opened up a wealth of sources for me to access and spool through at my leisure. I was recently given membership in the Wikipedia Library, which has provided me access to a wide range of databases, such as JSTOR and MIT Press, that I hadn’t been able to use until that moment.
As part of the Anarchism WikiProject, you’ve contributed quite a bit to scholarship on anarchism. Would you have advice for anarchist scholars or writers?
As that old anarchist saying goes: ‘in the matter of boots, I refer to the authority of the bootmaker.’ I am no expert. If anything, I am standing on the shoulders of experts. So I would much rather they offer me advice, rather than me presuming I have any advice to offer them.
How many languages are you literate in? Does being literate in more languages improve the quality of your scholarship, whether on Wikipedia or elsewhere?
I’m fluent in 4 languages and literate in a handful of others. My comprehension of more than one Romance language has opened up literacy in the others to me. For example, I am capable of reading Portuguese and Italian, despite not being able to speak those languages myself. Thankfully Wikipedia’s emphasis on the written word means mere literacy is sufficient.
When it comes to Wikipedia, being literate in other languages means I can more effectively translate from those Wikipedias. I mostly translate from Romance languages, as those are what I’m most familiar with, but I also do a fair amount of translation from Slavic languages, as I’m familiar enough with Russian that I can work on others with machine aid. Literacy in those languages also means that I am a point of call for verifying sources. If there is a source listed in a language that I can read, I can ensure that the information in the Wikipedia article corresponds with the cited source.
I would say that being able to read several languages does improve the quality of my scholarship, although my lack of ability in non-European languages presents a big barrier and is something that I still need to work on.
But learning other languages isn’t just important for scholarship, it’s important for life, too. I think everyone should at least attempt to learn other languages. Whether that’s the language of a neighbouring country, the language of a local immigrant community, your region’s indigenous/native language, or even just a language that you find interesting. Learning more than one language literally changes the way your brain works, as you’re not simply learning to transliterate one form of speech to another, you are learning how to think in a different way. It opens up communication with others, you can interact with far more people by just learning one other language than you can with your native tongue.
Are there other things you would like to share with our readers that we’ve neglected to ask in this interview?
If you yourself want to help out with building Wikipedia, or to contribute to WikiProject Anarchism, check out our “Getting started” and “How can I help?” guides, respectively. You can also feel free to drop us a line on our talk page, if you need any help or advice in beginning your encyclopaedic journey. Even if only one person reading this makes an account and starts making edits, that would be a tremendous help.