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Frank H. Brooks – Ideology, Strategy, and Organization: Dyer Lum and the American Anarchist Movement

The Anarchist Library

Author: Frank H. Brooks
Title: Ideology, Strategy, and Organization: Dyer Lum and the American Anarchist Movement
Date: Winter 1993
Notes: This article originally appeared in Labor History, Volume 34, Number 1, Winter 1993, pp. 57-83.

Source: Retrieved on September 29, 2022 from https://azinelibrary.org

The mid-1880s, like the mid-1870s, were a time of considerable turmoil for American workers. Unemployment and wage cuts were widespread and workers responded with strikes, boycotts, union organizing, local labor tickets, and a bewildering variety of reform schemes and ideologies. Perhaps the central event of the 1880s was the Haymarket incident. The bomb and subsequent trial had a broad historical impact, sparking a red scare, blunting the eight-hour movement, establishing the stereotype of anarchists as wild-eyed, foreign bombthrowers, and intensifying calls for immigration restriction.

Haymarket, of course, had a profound impact on the American anarchist movement. The trial and executions deprived the movement of several capable leaders, drove away rank and file sympathizers, and changed sporadic public curiosity into widespread animosity. Yet Haymarket’s effects should not be overstated or simplified. Although American anarchism was a growing movement in the early 1880s, it already suffered from ideological, strategic, and ethnic divisions. Such divisions were hardly unique to anarchism, however. Most movements, particularly those that grew dramatically during periods of unrest, faced similar problems. Indeed, many also faced some form of repression and its long-term impact: exacerbating their internal divisions. Post-Haymarket repression solidified anarchism’s divisions, establishing two opposing camps: the "Boston anarchists," predominantly native-born, evolutionary and individualist, and the "Chicago anarchists," predominantly immigrant, revolutionary and collectivist. Yet both before and after Haymarket, several radicals sought to unite the movement around a common strategy and ideology.

The most interesting and well-qualified person to attempt such unification of anarchists was Dyer D. Lum. He could bridge ethnic differences, for despite being native-born, he had substantial contacts with immigrant radicals. He was also inclined to link anarchism firmly to the labor movement, in which he had been active for many years. Lum was widely known in radical and labor circles, as some of his obituaries attest: "well-known to the working men throughout the country as a thinker and writer on the labor question . . . a journalist of no mean ability . . . one of America’s leading and most aggressive anarchists . . . the brightest scholar, the profoundest thinker of the American Revolutionary movement."[1] Historians of American anarchism have also recognized Lum as an important and interesting figure in the 1880s and 1890s. For the most part, however, Lum has been considered as a comrade of other more famous anarchists such as Albert Parsons, Voltairine de Cleyre, or Benjamin Tucker, or as one individual in a general survey of American anarchists.[2]

More generally, historians of American anarchism have usually focused on one camp or the other, thus exaggerating their differences. Labor and leftist historians have naturally focused on the collectivist anarchists, as have those interested in immigrant cultures and social history. Bruce Nelson’s detailed study of the Chicago movement "beyond the martyrs" addresses such concerns admirably but, not surprisingly, downplays the significance of the scattered, primarily native, and multi-class individualist camp. Neither have the two major accounts of the Haymarket events paid much attention to the individualists, in part because they focus on just a few years in the development of American anarchism. On the other hand, accounts of the individualist camp often come from intellectual or economic historians and have stressed the Americanism, reformism, and radicalized liberal tendencies of anarchism. While historians of collectivist anarchism emphasize the irrelevance and anachronism of the individualists, historians of individualist anarchism, focus on the violence and alienness of the collectivists.[3]

Focusing on Dyer Lum and his attempt to bridge the differences can bring to light connections and similarities between the camps that have been obscured by previous one-sided analyses. A suggestive example of this is Lum’s attitude toward unions. Whereas individualists such as Tucker were usually unenthusiastic about unions, and collectivists’ preferences ran the gamut from no unions to craft unionism, industrial unionism, or protosyndicalism, Lum developed a "mutualist" theory of unions that led him first to activity within the Knights of Labor and then to promotion of antipolitical strategies in the American Federation of Labor. Actually, Lum was one of several anarchist labor activists that helped to shape the AFL’s shift toward "voluntarism," an unlikely trajectory. Ironically, then, the narrowness of studies focusing on one or the other of anarchism’s camps can be transcended by studying an individual radical like Dyer Lum. As a radical in several movements, in several towns and cities, and over a period of 25 years, Lum can act as a lens, magnifying the impact of factors usually associated exclusively with one camp or the other, factors such as ethnicity, religion, liberal ideology, and republicanism.