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Paul Avrich, Anarchist Historian, RIP

Paul Avrich, Anarchist Historian, RIP

by Ronald Creagh

Paul Avrich, the foremost historian of American anarchism, is dead. While we hope to give more complete details about his life and work later, I would like to take this opportunity to salute the person who first introduced me to American anarchism.

When I decided to write a doctoral dissertation on this topic, my professor suggested that there was probably an American expert in the field, and that I should first get in touch with that person. Through Marie-Christine of the CIRA in Lausanne, Switzerland, I obtained Paul's address and wrote him.

Paul organized everything for my research, including my residence in New York and my meeting with the New York anarchists, and in particular, Sam and Esther Dolgoff. It was very enlightening to me to discover that while I thought the subject of Jewish anarchism could be easily treated in a few pages, this one issue had inspired him to write over a thousand pages of handwritten notes. He suggested that for my research I consult Columbia University, which indeed turned out to have a quite splendid collection, while I let him know about the treasures in the New York Public Library.

We met again several times, and I know that Paul's friendliness will remain in the minds of all who have known him, just as his scholarship will be remembered by all who have read his remarkable books. He offers his readers very extraordinary information. Perhaps his most thought-provoking testimony is contained in his work Anarchist Voices, which is based on his careful, time-consuming interviews with hundreds of people.

It is to be hoped that his vast collection of documents will be preserved. But in any case it is certain that in a country which has experienced the Red Scare, McCarthyism and a long tradition of witchhunting, Paul will stand out as a scholar who has quietly but quite remarkably rehabilitated that modest but generous minority of workers who have resolutely fought for freedom and justice.