The French Anarchists in London, 1880-1914: Exile and transnationalism in the first globalization.

Author:Turcato, Davide
Position:Book review

Constance Bantman, The French Anarchists in London, 1880-1914: Exile and transnationalism in the first globalization

Liverpool: Liverpool University Press, 2013. ISBN: 978-1846318801

This book places itself in the current of transnational studies, that is, studies whose scope crosses national boundaries. It is self-described as 'a political and social history of the French anarchists' exile years in London between the late 1880s and early 1890s, tracing their legacy until the First World War and placing them in a broader historical context of exilic and transnational activism'.

This first of the book's six chapters sets the scene by providing a standard overview of anarchism and socialism in France and Great Britain in the 1880s. The core of the book is constituted by the next two chapters, the ones which the book's title refers to more directly. Here Bantman provides a social history--mainly based on French police sources but also on correspondence and autobiographies--of the community of four to five hundred French-speaking anarchists that lived in London. She surveys their provenance, sex, marital status and job; she describes their neighbourhoods, clubs, daily life and level of integration, or lack thereof; and she draws a profile of their periodicals and most prominent militants, whom she unproblematically refers to as 'the elite'. The following two chapters look at the same community from the other side of the barricade. In two self-contained essays Bantman describes, respectively, how anarchists were perceived by public opinion and dealt with by the British authorities, and how British immigration and asylum policy changed in time, in no small measure as a result of the anarchists' presence and activity--real or imagined. The final chapter examines the rise of syndicalism in France and Britain in the pre-war years and the bi-directional osmosis of direct action tactics along the Franco-British axis.

As Bantman states, her book 'concentrates on prominent individuals, personal networks, and ideological transfers'. A paradigmatic figure on all three accounts is Emile Pouget. He was one of the protagonists in the rise of syndicalism in France, and his views were deeply influenced by British trade-unionism, which he directly experienced through his London exile. He thus epitomises the role of mediators, another key theme in the book. Bantman's focus on cultural and militant transnational transfers allows her to show that the traditional...

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