Elisee Reclus, anarchism, geography and Ireland

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Author’s Abstract

“This 2017 paper addresses the role of Ireland and Irish republicanism in the geography, biography and political thinking of the French anarchist geographer Élisée Reclus (1830–1905).  This paper sheds new light on the construction of a scientific and political discourse, one which was radically opposed to external and internal colonialisms in the Age of Empire, analysing primary sources such as Reclus’ texts and correspondence, along with his transnational networks.

Elisee Reclus

It draws on present-day debates on ‘geography and anarchism’, postcolonial Ireland and international circulation and localisation of knowledge.

Finally, it is a contribution to evaluating the importance of the ‘British Isles’ as a place for production and reception of the geographical and political works by both Reclus and the other anarchist geographer Peter Kropotkin (1842–1921), scholars and militants who lived there in different periods of their respective careers.”

Ferretti sees the importance of Reclus’ statements for present debates “in the specific features of anarchist internationalism and anti-colonialism, ideas that closely linked the national question to the social one”.

Direct links between Reclus’ circle and Irish Republicans can be seen in the correspondence between Maud Gonne when she was editor of L’Irlande Libre, and the French anarchist Jean Grave.

Although peppered with academic language, Ferretti’s paper adds to our knowledge of both anarchist georgraphy and anarchist anti-imperialism in the late 1800s.

Thanks to Liam O’Rourke of the Irish Republican Education Forum for bringing this to our attention.

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Irish anarchism in the 1880s

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Irish anarchism is often seen as a movement which started in the late 1960s and early 1970s, with just a minor pre-history of lone individuals prior to that. Historian Fintan Lane has done much to correct this misunderstanding, particularly with his book The origins of modern Irish socialism, 1881-1896 (Cork University Press, 1997).

When we read of Irish revolutionaries in the 1880s, we read of the Irish Republican Brotherhood (popularly known as the Fenians) rather than the anarchists who were becoming influential among advanced radicals in much of Europe. With the dominance of nationalist ideas among Irish radicals of the time, neither Marxism nor anarchism had many supporters here. But that is not to say that there none.

According to Lane “The emergence of a Dublin branch of the Socialist League in December 1885 marks the beginning of modern organised socialism in Ireland, though it was immediately preceded by the semi-socialist Dublin Democratic Association. An unbroken continuity of organisation exists between this first socialist group and Connolly’s Irish Socialist Republican Party of 1896. Moreover, the libertarian socialism of the Socialist League remained influential within Dublin socialist circles until the arrival of ‘new unionism’ and the subsequent establishment of branches of the Independent Labour Party in Dublin, Belfast and Waterford in the mid-1890s.”

We have two articles by Lane: Practical Anarchists We was published by History Ireland in March/April 2008 (vol.16, no.2), and The origins of modern Irish socialism, 1881-1896 in Red & Black Revolution (no.3) in 1997.

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click here to download